Repeated use of corticosteroids linked to risk of cerebral palsy

Donald Saiontz

By Donald Saiontz
Posted September 23, 2007


According to a study published in the current issue of the New England Journal of Medicine, repeated courses of corticosteriods given to pregnant women at risk for premature labor may increase the chances that the infant will develop cerebral palsy.  Use of only one course of the steroid treatment to accelerate lung development and increase the baby’s chances of survival was found to be just as effective and may not carry the same risk.

The study was conducted by researchers at Columbia University Medical Center, who were investigating the safety of a corticosteriod named betamethasone.  Until 2000, it was common for doctors to give women at risk for premature delivery repeated courses of corticosteriods every week throughout the remainder of their pregnancy.  In some cases this resulted in women receiving as many as 10 courses of the steriod treatment.

Due to concerns over the lack of safety information about the practice of repeated treatments, a panel at the National Institute of Health (NIH) suggested that clinical trials be conducted.  The study published in the New England Journal of Medicine is one of the first clinical trials investigating the long term effects of repeated corticosteriod use and the risk of cerebral palsy.

Researchers followed 556 infants born at 13 different hospitals throughout the United States from women who remained pregnant at least one week after their first course of steroid treatment.  The women, who were all at risk of premature delivery, were divided into two groups.  One groupreceived weekly courses of corticosteriods until their baby was born and the other was given a placebo after the first treatment.

When the children born from the two groups were compared when they were two to three years old, researchers found that there was no significant neurological or physical differences between them.  However, the six out of the 248 children whose mothers received multiple steroid treatments had been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, in contrast to only one out of the 238 children in the other group. 

Although the difference in the number of children diagnosed with cerebral palsy after use of corticosteroid treatment fell short of statistical significance, researchers suggested that multiple weekly courses of the steroids may cause potential harm to the infants without any apparent long term benefits.


Cerebral palsy is disorder which impacts movement control and muscle coordination.  It is caused by an injury to the brain could be suffered during the pregnancy, during delivery or immediately after birth.  It does not appear that researchers considered factors other than the use of corticosteroids which may have caused or contributed to cerebral palsy for the children.

In some cases, cerebral palsy is caused by a medical mistake during delivery.  The cerebral palsy attorneys at Saiontz & Kirk, P.A. investigate potential cases for families of children diagnosed with cerebral palsy, to help determine if the disability may have been prevent with the exercise of proper standards of medical care.  If your child or a family member has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, request a free consultation and claim evaluation.

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