Brain Flushing Could Save Premature Infants

prematureMany premature infants who are born weighing less than 1,500 grams (3 pounds, 4 ounces) suffer from intraventricular hemorrhages(IVH) or brain bleeds, which can lead to a condition called hydrocephalus (water on the brain). This condition has been known to cause the baby to stopping breathing and have a low heart rate, appear pale or blue in coloring, have seizures, and have swelling or bulging of the fontanelles. A small study done in the UK has revealed that a rarely used technique called “brain-flushing” could help many of these premature infants.

A common way to treat a child with a brain bleed who is retaining fluid is to insert a needle into the infant’s head repeatedly and slowly remove the fluid as it has built up. Unfortunately, this treatment was not proven to work and many infants still go on to develop hydrocephalus. Brain-flushing, however, uses a different approach to removing the excess fluid on the brain. Infants are given anesthesia, then have two tubes inserted into their skulls. One tube drains out the fluid while the other infuses artificial fluid at a slower rate. This reduces the pressure and gives the bleeding a chance to heal properly.

The study of a trial of this technique was released this week and showed promise compared to the typical treatment. In several cities, 77 premature babies were treated for bleeding in their brains using brain-flushing or the standard treatment. Of the babies who were treated using needles to remove the fluid, 71 percent were left severely disabled or died due to the bleeding. The babies who were given the brain-flush technique instead, only 54 percent died or were left disabled.

The brain-flushing technique was designed by Ian Pople, a pediatric neurosurgeon at North Bristol NHS trust, and Andrew Whitelaw, a professor of neonatal medicine at the University of Bristol. The two doctors wanted to find a way to save premature infants that were surviving birth only to die later from hemorrhages.

In Britain, several hundred children suffer brain bleeding each year. Nearly half of them will develop hydrocephalus because of the bleeding. This treatment option could lower the death rates for premature infants worldwide. – Summer, staff writer

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Summer is a mom of three, living life in the slow lane along historic Route 66. She writes, homeschools, gardens, and is still trying to learn how to knit.

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