According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Epidemiology, if a mother takes aspirin while pregnant, her child is 2 and a half times more likely to have cerebral palsy.
Cerebral palsy is a lifelong condition that can cause both speech and movement problems, and while individuals can receive therapy, there is no cure. Cases of cerebral palsy are most often caused by medical or doctor mistakes.
While the researchers explained that the study does not point to aspirin as a direct cause of infant brain damage and cerebral palsy, there does seem to be a connection between the 2. It is difficult to say if this finding will have an impact on future cases of cerebral palsy, but it does give pregnant mothers a reason to avoid the painkiller while pregnant.
What the Numbers Said...
For this study, researchers collected information from 185,617 expecting mothers in Denmark and Norway and studied the painkillers they took during pregnancy. About half of the mothers took paracetamol, 3 percent took aspirin, and 4 percent took ibuprofen. Of the children who were later born to those women, 357 babies had brain function problems.
If their mothers had taken aspirin, the children had a higher chance of developing cerebral palsy on both side of the brain. If the mothers took paracetamol, their babies were 30 percent more likely to develop cerebral palsy on one side the brain, and 50 percent more likely to develop the condition on both sides.
The researchers noted that both medications seemed to be the most hazardous when taken during the midpoint of pregnancy. This outcome might be due to the fact that the child’s brain is developing the most during that period. In their discussion of these results, the researchers hypothesized that those 2 painkillers could affect the mother’s hormone levels, which might also affect brain development.
At the same time, the researchers emphasized the need for additional studies on the safety of taking these drugs during pregnancy. There are still many questions regarding whether or how aspirin and paracetamol might affect brain development.
In the end, the study’s authors stressed that all pregnant mothers should ask a doctor before taking any medication.
Cerebral Palsy and Brain Function
Cerebral palsy happens when the brain does not develop correctly in uterus, or when it is injured before, during, or after birth. Cerebral palsy most commonly is due to mistakes made by doctors or medical staff during the birthing process or shortly afterward. These birth injuries can be caused by the brain failing to get enough blood and oxygen, or if there is bleeding in the brain.
Cerebral palsy can affect an individual’s ability to function independently, so they may need assistance to perform certain tasks. The condition may cause a child to have developmental delays and learning disabilities, or it could affect their speech, how they move, their vision, and their posture. In more severe cases, children with cerebral palsy may have problems eating, swallowing, and breathing.
About 40 percent of children with cerebral palsy cannot walk, or need an assistive device such as a cane or walker. Also, about 40 percent of children with cerebral palsy also have some form of epilepsy, and 60 percent have another kind of disability that affects them developmentally.
Early Intervention Is Key, But Costly
Cerebral palsy is not a rare condition. In fact, about 10,000 babies born in the U.S. every year will be diagnosed with CP in infancy or toddlerhood. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 764,000 kids and adults in the U.S. have at least 1 of the symptoms of cerebral palsy.
For children who have been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, studies show it is key to begin CP treatment and therapy early, so they can work on muscle coordination and improve their strength and control. By doing these interventions when a child is still very young, they have a better chance of being able to do more activities independently later in life.
Due to the medical and therapeutic needs of children with cerebral palsy, they have medical costs that are 10 times higher than those for children without cerebral palsy. Additionally, the cost to care for someone with CP over their lifetime is about $1 Million, according to a 2003 estimate by the CDC.
Given these numbers, it is clear why more studies are needed to explore possible causes of cerebral palsy, and lower the economic and social costs of this condition.