University of California Scientists Aim to Reduce Brachial Plexus Birth Injury Rates

Between one and three newborns out of 1,000 have a brachial plexus injury – an injury that occurs when the network of nerves that send signals from the spinal cord to the shoulder, arm, or hand, is damaged. During birth, brachial plexus birth injuries (BPBIs) can be minor – that is, they may simply involve the compression or slight stretching of these nerves. However, in some cases injuries can be severe, causing ripping or tearing of the nerves. Serious brachial plexus injuries can cause paralysis, though surgery may potentially help restore function. Because babies are vulnerable, injury prevention is key. University of California scientists are hoping to significantly reduce the number of BPBIs that take place by undertaking a study that includes data obtained from millions of families in this state.

What Causes Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries in Babies?

BPBIs can occur when nerves are damaged during children. Often, the cause is shoulder dystocia, which occurs when one or both a baby’s shoulders get stuck inside the mother’s pelvis during labor and birth. This problem occurs in up to 1% of deliveries and it is considered a life-threatening emergency that needs to be treated quickly to avoid major problems. Injuries are sometimes caused by medical mistakes – for instance, when the doctor applies excessive traction laterally to the neck, pushing the head toward one of the shoulders. There are specific techniques that need to be used when shoulder dystocia occurs. Trying to force the baby from the place where it is stuck can result in muscle weakness, lack of movement and/or severe pain and should be avoided at all costs.

Conditions that Can Arise from Brachial Plexus Birth Injuries

The usual condition resulting from a BPBIs is either Erb’s palsy or Klumpke’s palsy. Erb’s palsy causes weakness or partial or total paralysis in the area between the shoulder and the elbow. Erb’s palsy, meanwhile, affects the nerves in the hand and causes an array of symptoms ranging from numbness right through to stiff joints, atrophy, and even drooping of one eyelid. Therapies for babies range from physical therapy to surgery (if no change is observed within the first three to six months).

The New University of California Study

The researchers are using data compiled from millions of births to evaluate the relevance of factors such as prenatal care, maternal factors, and hospital characteristics. It also looks into the mother’s social, economic, demographic, geographic, and other factors, so as to create a ‘predictive risk model’ that will enable medical teams to take proactive steps to reduce the risk of BPBIs. Currently, mothers with diabetes (or gestational diabetes) are offered early induction of labor or planned C-sections.

BPBIs affect between one and three babies out of every 1,000. A team of University of California studies are aiming to create a risk profile by studying data obtained from millions of families. Because these injuries can significantly interfere with a child’s quality of life or even require surgery, supporting prevention efforts is vital.

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Christophe Rude

Christophe Rude

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