Cerebral palsy is an umbrella term encompassing disorders of movement and posture, attributed to non-progressive disturbances occurring in the developing fetal or infant brain. As there are diverse risk factors and causes, no one strategy will prevent all cerebral palsy. Therefore, there is a need to systematically consider all potentially relevant interventions for their contribution to prevention.
To summarise the evidence from Cochrane reviews regarding the effects of antenatal and intrapartum interventions for preventing cerebral palsy.
We searched the Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews on 7 August 2016, for reviews of antenatal or intrapartum interventions reporting on cerebral palsy. Two authors assessed reviews for inclusion, extracted data, assessed review quality, using AMSTAR and ROBIS, and quality of the evidence, using the GRADE approach. We organised reviews by topic, and summarised findings in text and tables. We categorised interventions as effective (high-quality evidence of effectiveness); possibly effective (moderate-quality evidence of effectiveness); ineffective (high-quality evidence of harm or of lack of effectiveness); probably ineffective (moderate-quality evidence of harm or of lack of effectiveness); and no conclusions possible (low- to very low-quality evidence).
We included 15 Cochrane reviews. A further 62 reviews pre-specified the outcome cerebral palsy in their methods, but none of the included randomised controlled trials (RCTs) reported this outcome. The included reviews were high quality and at low risk of bias. They included 279 RCTs; data for cerebral palsy were available from 27 (10%) RCTs, involving 32,490 children. They considered interventions for: treating mild to moderate hypertension (two) and pre-eclampsia (two); diagnosing and preventing fetal compromise in labour (one); preventing preterm birth (four); preterm fetal maturation or neuroprotection (five); and managing preterm fetal compromise (one). Quality of evidence ranged from very low to high. Effective interventions: high-quality evidence of effectiveness There was a reduction in cerebral palsy in children born to women at risk of preterm birth who received magnesium sulphate for neuroprotection of the fetus compared with placebo (risk ratio (RR) 0.68, 95% confidence interval (CI) 0.54 to 0.87; five RCTs; 6145 children). Probably ineffective interventions: moderate-quality evidence of harm There was an increase in cerebral palsy in children born to mothers in preterm labour with intact membranes who received any prophylactic antibiotics versus no antibiotics (RR 1.82, 95% CI 0.99 to 3.34; one RCT; 3173 children). There was an increase in cerebral palsy in children, who as preterm babies with suspected fetal compromise, were born immediately compared with those for whom birth was deferred (RR 5.88, 95% CI 1.33 to 26.02; one RCT; 507 children). Probably ineffective interventions: moderate-quality evidence of lack of effectiveness There was no clear difference in the presence of cerebral palsy in children born to women at risk of preterm birth who received repeat doses of corticosteroids compared with a single course (RR 1.03, 95% CI 0.71 to 1.50; four RCTs; 3800 children). No conclusions possible: low- to very low-quality evidence Low-quality evidence found there was a possible reduction in cerebral palsy for children born to women at risk of preterm birth who received antenatal corticosteroids for accelerating fetal lung maturation compared with placebo (RR 0.60, 95% CI 0.34 to 1.03; five RCTs; 904 children). There was no clear difference in the presence of cerebral palsy with interventionist care for severe pre-eclampsia versus expectant care (RR 6.01, 95% CI 0.75 to 48.14; one RCT; 262 children); magnesium sulphate for pre-eclampsia versus placebo (RR 0.34, 95% CI 0.09 to 1.26; one RCT; 2895 children); continuous cardiotocography for fetal assessment during labour versus intermittent auscultation (average RR 1.75, 95% CI 0.84 to 3.63; two RCTs; 13,252 children); prenatal progesterone for prevention of preterm birth versus placebo (RR 0.14, 95% CI 0.01 to 3.48; one RCT; 274 children); and betamimetics for inhibiting preterm labour versus placebo (RR 0.19, 95% CI 0.02 to 1.63; one RCT; 246 children).Very low-quality found no clear difference for the presence of cerebral palsy with any antihypertensive drug (oral beta-blockers) for treatment of mild to moderate hypertension versus placebo (RR 0.33, 95% CI 0.01 to 8.01; one RCT; 110 children); magnesium sulphate for prevention of preterm birth versus other tocolytic agents (RR 0.13, 95% CI 0.01 to 2.51; one RCT; 106 children); and vitamin K and phenobarbital prior to preterm birth for prevention of neonatal periventricular haemorrhage versus placebo (RR 0.77, 95% CI 0.33 to 1.76; one RCT; 299 children).
This overview summarises evidence from Cochrane reviews on the effects of antenatal and intrapartum interventions on cerebral palsy, and can be used by researchers, funding bodies, policy makers, clinicians and consumers to aid decision-making and evidence translation. We recommend that readers consult the included Cochrane reviews to formally assess other benefits or harms of included interventions, including impacts on risk factors for cerebral palsy (such as the reduction in intraventricular haemorrhage for preterm babies following exposure to antenatal corticosteroids).Magnesium sulphate for women at risk of preterm birth for fetal neuroprotection can prevent cerebral palsy. Prophylactic antibiotics for women in preterm labour with intact membranes, and immediate rather than deferred birth of preterm babies with suspected fetal compromise, may increase the risk of cerebral palsy. Repeat doses compared with a single course of antenatal corticosteroids for women at risk of preterm birth do not clearly impact the risk of cerebral palsy.Cerebral palsy is rarely diagnosed at birth, has diverse risk factors and causes, and is diagnosed in approximately one in 500 children. To date, only a small proportion of Cochrane reviews assessing antenatal and intrapartum interventions have been able to report on this outcome. There is an urgent need for long-term follow-up of RCTs of interventions addressing risk factors for cerebral palsy, and consideration of the use of relatively new interim assessments (including the General Movements Assessment). Such RCTs must be rigorous in their design, and aim for consistency in cerebral palsy outcome measurement and reporting to facilitate pooling of data, to focus research efforts on prevention.