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June 2001
Vol. 4, No. 6, p 14.
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HBOT and cerebral palsy

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Hyperbaric oxygen therapy (HBOT) supplies pure oxygen under increased atmospheric pressure (via a pressurized chamber) to the bloodstream. The method has gained popularity as a treatment for young patients with cerebral palsy, a condition that results from damage to the brain and causes a disorder of movement or posture. However, it is not officially recognized as a cerebral palsy treatment by most insurance companies, and thus, it is generally not covered for this purpose. Doctors from Montreal conducted a recent study to collect data on the effectiveness and safety of using HBOT on children with this disease (Lancet 2001, 357, 582–586)

Researchers performed two trials on 111 children aged 3–12 with cerebral palsy. The first group (n = 57) was assigned hyperbaric oxygen, specifically 1.75 atm absolute (ATA) of 100% oxygen, and the other group (n = 54) was given slightly pressurized room air at 1.3 ATA. The study consisted of 40 sessions that were administered once a day for five days over an eight-week period. The children were assessed three times during the trial and once more three months after its conclusion.

Significant improvements were recorded in both groups for gross motor function, speech, attention, memory, and functional skills; but notably, the amount of progress for each group was statistically equivalent. Therefore, it was concluded that one approach was no more effective than the other.

The scientists proposed that either the two treatments are equally useful in bringing oxygen to the blood, or the mere act of participating in a study for which anecdotal reports have raised expectations leads to positive effects. Further study with slightly pressurized air will be required to determine which of these explanations is accurate.

Michelle Reillo, clinical director of Chesapeake Hyperbaric in Baltimore, who often treats children with cerebral palsy, remains confident about the efficacy of HBOT. “We’ve seen, when treated at 1.5 ATA, several cognitive and mobility improvements in our patients. It makes the difference between having a dependent or an independent lifestyle.”


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