Risk of Cerebral Palsy Linked to Low Umbilical Cord pH at Birth

New research suggests that low umbilical cord blood pH could be linked to cerebral palsy and infant mortality, raising the possibility of using the pH levels as a measure for predicting possible infant health risks.

The umbilical cord pH study was published May 13 in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), and was conducted by researchers at BMJ and Cleveland Clinic. The findings confirm for some doctors a long-suspected link between umbilical artery pH and adverse outcomes, such as cerebral palsy, following birth. Researchers also said that the low pH levels could also be a factor in cerebral palsy lawsuits.

Researchers used a variety of sources to gather data on 481,753 infants, and found that low arterial cord pH at birth was associated with cerebral palsy, neonatal mortality, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, and intraventricular hemorrhage.

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Cerebral palsy can be caused by an injury to an infant’s brain before, during or shortly after birth. If the brain of a baby is deprived of oxygen, it can result in irreversible damage that leaves the child with developmental problems, loss of motor functions and other life-long injuries and disabilities associated with cerebral palsy. The condition is also commonly associated with seizures, sensory impairments and cognitive limitation.

Medical malpractice lawsuits for cerebral palsy are often filed when a medical mistake or series of mistakes occur during prenatal care or delivery that result in the child’s brain being deprived of oxygen for an extended amount of time.

“A documented low cord pH is a factor that may be used to support medico-legal claims of harm during intrapartum events resulting in long term disability,” researchers said. “It is therefore imperative that the validity of this association is supported with high quality evidence.”

However, researchers said that while their findings found an overall association between cerebral palsy and low arterial cord blood pH had an odds ration of 2.3:1, there should be further research to better determine the strength of the link. The researchers found that the link between the low pH levels and cerebral palsy, while present, was weaker than they expected, and they do not know why.


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