According to results from a multi-center study, repeated courses of a drug that is used to improve the survival of unborn premature babies also may increase the risk of cerebral palsy in those children.
The drug â€“ a corticosteroid called betamethasone â€“ is given to women at risk of premature delivery to hasten the development of their babyâ€™s lungs. One course of steroids has been shown to reduce neonatal mortality and improve lung function with little risk to the infant
Up until the year 2000, obstetrician-gynecologists frequently repeated the course of steroids every week, up to 10 to 11 times, in women who remained pregnant after the first course. A NIH panel that year, concerned with the lack of safety data for this practice, suggested multiple courses should be strictly reserved for patients enrolled in clinical trials.
The study found that by ages two to three, the two groups of children were physically and neurologically identical, except that six out of 248 children who received multiple courses of corticosteroids had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, compared to only 1 out of 238 children in the placebo group. The mothers of all six children with cerebral palsy in the corticosteroid group had received four or more courses of the drug.
Although the difference in number of children with cerebral palsy was not statistically significant, since weekly courses had no long-term benefit and potentially may harm the child, doctors should not administer multiple weekly courses of corticosteroids.