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Fetal Hypoxia During Pregnancy May “Program” Children for Heart Disease

Hypoxia is a medical term that refers to deprivation of oxygen, and it often comes into play in birth injuries. When a child is in fetal distress and that distress is not addressed in a timely fashion by medical caregivers, then serious harm can result. For example, many Illinois cerebral palsy cases involve children who have had oxygen deprived to their brain during birth. There are many far reaching consequences of this deprivation which essentially can affect all areas of the victim’s life.

However, scientists have recently uncovered yet another complication that may face victims, something that at first does seem to be connected to fetal oxygen deprivation: heart disease. As reported earlier this month in Science Mag, a new study into the overall causes of heart disease has found that one of those could include low oxygen levels in the womb. Of course this is a surprising finding, considering that most focus on heart disease involves conduct later in life regarding diet, exercise, smoking, and the like.

The story explains that when fetal hypoxia is prolonged, this has an effect on the development of the vessels within the embryo’s heart. In these situations the heart walls and aorta walls grow thicker. This in turn makes it harder for blood vessels to respond quickly which presents a challenge for proper blood flow.

Our Illinois birth injury attorneys appreciate that many questions still remain regarding exactly how this process occurs. One group of physiologists suggested that the lack of oxygen causes stress that leads to an overload of highly reactive molecules known as free radicals. They recently tested this hypothesis with four groups of pregnant rats with two groups facing hypoxia and two groups having normal pregnancies. Also two sets of groups were given vitamin C water to mimic antioxidant effects. The effects of each of these protocols what then examined in the pups that were born.

Examination of the pups showed clear differences between each group. In general, those pups without vitamin C and with induced hypoxia had hearts that were pumping considerably harder and faster at four months old compared with those in the other groups. These pups also showed signs of obstruction in the arteries-as sign of developing cardiovascular disease. Interestingly, these problems were not seen in each of the three other groups, including those who have induced hypoxia but were given vitamin C water. This suggests that the vitamin supplements may play a crucial role in helping alleviate some of these problems.

Summarizing these latest findings, the lead researcher explained, “Although a link between adverse conditions during pregnancy and cardiovascular disease in later life has been established for many years, what explains this link had remained an enigma.”

As with all research that may one day have implications for ensuring properly development and birth, the first step in creating drugs or medical care protocols to help those involved is figuring out how the problem arises in the first place. This study does that. The doctor who is known as the “father” of the fetal development field in this area has called this latest study fascinating. He notes that “these are very exciting findings that take us several steps forward. […] Now that we understand the mechanism, we are much closer to being able to intervene.”

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