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Study links use of morphine in preterm infants to brain damage

On Behalf of | Feb 1, 2016 | Child Injuries

A baby that is delivered before 37 weeks is considered to be preterm. Depending on how early a baby is delivered, he or she may experience minor to severe breathing and heart problems due to the fact that these organs weren’t fully developed at the time of birth. Additionally, and for the same reasons, preterm babies often experience problems related to their immune and gastrointestinal systems.

Ensuring that a preterm baby receives proper and adequate amounts of nutrition is very important and many newborn babies are fed via a feeding tube. Additionally, to aid in normal lung and brain functioning; some newborns may require assistance breathing via a ventilator.

Preterm babies weigh less and are smaller than full-term babies and the medical interventions that are often necessary to ensure for their continued growth and development can take a significant toll on their tiny bodies.

Studies related to pain in preterm infants has revealed that uncontrolled pain can wreck havoc on an infant’s brain and result in “altered brain development.” Therefore, doctors often walk a fine line when seeking to control a preterm infant’s pain associated with intubation and being on a ventilator and preventing brain damage. Until recently, the prescription pain drug morphine was believed to be a relatively safe method for controlling pain in preterm infants. However, the results of a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of British Columbia, reveal that the use of morphine in preterm infants may in fact cause brain damage.

Among the study’s findings is data confirming that the cerebellum brain region in “infants given morphine were up to 8.1 percent smaller than those not administered the widely used opiate painkiller.” Additionally, the administration of morphine was also linked to “lower motor and cognitive scores.”

Parents who believe that their infant or child was given medication that resulted in a son or daughter suffering brain damage should seek the advice of an attorney.

Source: The Vancouver Sun, “Pain medication given to pre-term babies may damage their brains: UBC study,” Randy Shore, Jan. 27, 2016

Mayo Clinic, “Premature birth: complications,” Feb. 1, 2016