A retrospective cohort study was carried out to test the hypothesis that children born at term with cerebral palsy with signs of neurological dysfunction preceded by depression at birth (termed neonatal encephalopathy) differ from those without such signs in the frequency of antenatal and perinatal factors, and in the severity and characteristics of their impairment and disability. The study was carried out in the area covered by Oxford Regional Health Authority. Antenatal, intrapartum, neonatal factors, and the later clinical status of the two groups of children were used as the main outcome measures. Although most maternal and antenatal characteristics were similar in the two groups, the mothers of children with a history of neonatal encephalopathy were more likely to be primigravidae (odds ratio (OR) 2.0; 95% confidence interval (CI) 1.0 to 4.3) and to have a pregnancy of greater than 41 weeks' gestation (OR 3.5; 95% CI 1.0 to 12.1). Intrapartum complications were more frequent in the neonatal encephalopathy group: meconium staining of the amniotic fluid (OR 3.5; 95% CI 1.5 to 7.8), an ominous first stage cardiotocograph (OR 10.2; 95% CI 2.9 to 36.4), with a longer median duration of abnormality (200 v 48 minutes). At 5 years of age those with neonatal encephalopathy were more likely to have developed spastic quadriplegia (OR 4.8; 95% CI 2.2 to 10.5), to have visual impairment (OR 3.0; 95% CI 1.0 to 8.6), and to be non-walking (OR 4.0; 95% CI 1.8 to 8.8) than those without neonatal encephalopathy. Children with cerebral palsy who were born at term and have neonatal encephalopathy are more likely to have had signs of intrapartum asphyxia and are more likely to have a more severe form of cerebral palsy than those without a history of neonatal encephalopathy. Although this group represents only one in 10 of all cases of cerebral palsy, some of these may be obstetrically preventable.
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