Cool Caps Can Help Prevent Brain Damage in Newborns
Jeremy Laurance Health Editor, The Independent (London, England)
A PLASTIC bathing cap filled with cool water can help prevent brain damage in newborn babies. The affliction devastates hundreds of families each year and is the commonest cause of multimillion- pound lawsuits against the NHS.
The polythene hat, worn for three days immediately after birth, saved one in six babies who suffered oxygen deprivation at birth from death or lifelong disability in a four-country trial.
Doctors believe there is further potential to save more babies by refining the treatment. Studies are under way into total body cooling, which could be simpler to control.
Brain damage caused by oxygen deprivation at birth affects 600 to 700 babies a year in the UK. The lifelong costs of care for a severely brain- damaged baby are up to pounds 5m.
Often there is no warning of a problem until the last moments of pregnancy. The umbilical cord may become trapped round the baby's head or the womb may rupture down a previous Caesarean scar. After the baby is born the oxygen supply is restored, but it is too late. Any restriction of blood flow to the brain was thought to cause damage within minutes.
The results of the study, published online in the Lancet today, demonstrate for the first time that the damage may not be irreversible. Research a decade ago showed that when the brain was starved of oxygen, damage did not occur immediately; there were a few hours when the effects are treatable.
By cooling the brain, doctors believe they can interrupt the "chemical cascade" triggered by the lack of oxygen which leads to brain damage.
John Wyatt, professor of neonatology at University College Hospital, London, said: "What this confirms is that the brain damage is not irreversible at the moment of delivery. …