April 18, 2017
Lack of oxygen during delivery can cause brain injuries to newborns. Two glucocorticoids (a class of chemical substances) are showing promise in preserving newborns’ nerve cells after they’ve been deprived of oxygen.
Effects of Oxygen Deprivation in Newborns
Oxygen deprivation occurs in roughly four out of every 1,000 full-term births, and premature babies are at an even higher risk. Infants who suffer from lack of sufficient oxygen (also called birth asphyxia) often develop disabilities, including:
- Cerebral palsy
- Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
- Behavioral problems
What Causes Oxygen Deprivation in Newborns?
Several circumstances can put infants in danger of oxygen deprivation, including:
- Constricted airways
- Umbilical cord problems
- Early separation of the placenta from the uterus
- Problems with the mother’s blood pressure
- Infections in the mother
- Improper use of birth-assisting tools (such as forceps and vacuums)
- Excessive twisting and pulling by medical personnel
What are Glucocorticoids?
Glucocorticoids are any group of steroid hormones involved in the metabolism of carbohydrates, proteins, and fats. They are made naturally by your body, but they can also be created artificially and used for medical purposes.
Glucocorticoids have many natural functions, but they are often used for their anti-inflammatory properties. They can interrupt and suppress inflammation within the body, often making them useful in treating allergies and asthma.
How Can Glucocorticoids Help Oxygen-Deprived Newborns?
A team of researchers at the Center for Perinatal Biology at Loma Linda University School of Medicine has been investigating the effects of two glucocorticoids: dexamethasone and hydrocortisone.
These two glucocorticoids are reducing inflammation not in the airways like in asthma or allergy treatments, but instead in the brain tissue. The study showed that the two glucocorticoids reduced the size of the brain tissue in rats deprived of oxygen, which would protect them from brain injury.
The authors of the study emphasized the need for more research to understand how glucocorticoids could protect the newborn brain and to explore use of these drugs in conjunction with hypothermia, which is currently the only treatment for newborn babies with brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation during birth.