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Premature Infants and Brain Injuries

Most community members are well aware of the fact that premature births present many more complications for young involved mother and child than full term births. Clearly, infants generally need nine months to properly develop in the mother’s womb, and when they do not have that complete time to develop, birth injuries often result. Yet, beyond the basic understanding about premature birth risks, doctors are still learning about various aspects of the human development process. As knowledge in the area progresses, it is hoped that more options will be available to prevent certain birth injuries and allow these children to have normal lives.

For example, an NPR News article this week explored new medical researcher which is helping scientists better understand why brain injuries are so common among premature infants. The new research was unveiled by researchers at a Society for Neuroscience meeting this week. According to experts, this new knowledge may eventually lower the number of children born early who suffer from injuries like cerebral palsy, epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and similar problems. Over 60,000 children are born each year weighing less than 3.3 pounds. Most of those children will survive, but many of them will suffer brain injuries.

Oxygen deprivation in the first hours and days after birth is most often the main cause of the infant brain injury. The white matter of the brain can be damaged when not enough oxygen is received. This matter is essentially the “communication highway” of the brain, allowing messages to be sent from the brain to other parts of the body. The less developed the young child, the more immature their lungs are. This means that their bodies are often incapable of delivering the necessary oxygen to the lungs. Even mechanical breathing devices have not been able to make up this difference.

A new incubator inside an MRI scanner has now allowed medical researchers to test the white matter damage in preterm infant brains. The new information had provided scientists with much more information about exactly how the white matter is injured. Is it hoped that this line of research will prove fruitful when figuring out how to prevent the damage. For one thing, experts now believe that action must be taken immediately after the child’s birth to prevent harm. One researcher explained, “There is a critical developmental time window right after birth. If development is disturbed during this critical time window then the brain doesn’t catch up.” There may be a way for doctors to intervene immediately after birth by giving infants a specific drug in certain areas that speeds up production of myelin-the brain matter most often damaged. Magnetic stimulation of certain brain areas and temporarily lowering body temperature may also eventually prove to help prevent this brain damage in premature infants.

Our Chicago birth injury lawyers will be watching these developments closely. No personal injuries are as devastating as those involving young children, because they are often affected throughout their entire lives. All advances that will spare these victims should be pursued diligently and as timely as possible.

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