Umbilical Cord Blood Test

According to research conducted by Birmingham, England scientists, an infant's risk for mortality, brain damage, or cerebral palsy can be determined by checking the pH of his umbilical cord at birth. A low pH suggests a higher risk for these events.

The study, which has been published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), is the first collaborative project between BMJ and Cleveland Clinic to earn a continuing medical education credit (CME).

Intensive Monitoring

The research team believes their findings warrant intensive monitoring for babies born with low cord pH. In addition, they feel that more research is needed to discover whether newborn babies should all undergo testing of their umbilical cord blood.

Adverse Outcomes

Doctors have long suspected that there may be some linkage between the pH of the umbilical artery and adverse infant outcomes since babies who are deprived of oxygen (hypoxia) during their mothers' labors; tend to have a low pH in the blood of their umbilical cords. Babies with growth restriction and premature infants both have a very high risk for hypoxia which is a leading cause of brain damage in infants.

Inconsistent Data

But the data has been inconsistent on this topic. The current guidelines express doubt as to whether the umbilical cord blood pH can give an accurate prediction of complications such as infant death or the later childhood development of cerebral palsy.

Therefore, the Birmingham team decided to evaluate the results of 51 studies. The studies included a total of almost half a million babies. The aim of the researchers was to discover whether the evidence of umbilical cord blood pH could be an accurate predictor of complications. Though the studies varied in terms of quality, the overall results seemed unaffected by this fact.

In short, the researchers discovered a very strong, consistent correlation between brain damage, infant death, and childhood cerebral palsy with low arterial umbilical cord pH. As a result, the researchers are calling for an increased monitoring of babies born with low pH umbilical cord blood and for more research to be done on whether or not it would be cost effective to test all babies.

Stated Aim

In an editorial accompanying the report, James Neilson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Liverpool stated that according to these findings, "… we should aim to reduce the number of babies born with a low cord pH, without increasing unnecessary obstetric intervention."

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