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Arch Dis Child Fetal Neonatal Ed. 2003 May;88(3):F185-9.

Congenital brachial palsy: incidence, causes, and outcome in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.

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  • 1Women and Children's Directorate, Countess of Chester Hospital NHS Trust, Liverpool Road, Chester CH2 1UL, UK.



To determine the incidence and study the causes and outcome of congenital brachial palsy (CBP).


Active surveillance of newborn infants using the British Paediatric Surveillance Unit notification system and follow up study of outcome at 6 months of age.


The United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland.


Newborn infants presenting with a flaccid paresis of the arm (usually one, rarely both) born between April 1998 and March 1999.


Extent of the lesion at birth and degree of recovery at 6 months of age.


There were 323 confirmed cases giving an incidence of 0.42 per 1000 live births (1 in 2300). Significant associated risk factors in comparison with the normal population were shoulder dystocia (60% v 0.3%), high birth weight with 53% infants weighing more than the 90th centile, and assisted delivery (relative risk (RR) 3.4, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.9 to 3.9, p = 0.0001). There was a considerably lower risk of CBP in infants delivered by caesarean section (RR 7, 95% CI 2 to 56, p = 0.002). At about 6 months of age, about half of the infants had recovered fully, but the remainder showed incomplete recovery including 2% with no recovery. The relative risk of partial or no recovery in infants with extensive lesions soon after birth compared with those with less extensive lesions was 11.28 (95% CI 2.38 to 63.66, p = 0.000005).


The incidence of CBP in the United Kingdom and Republic of Ireland is strikingly similar to that previously reported nearly 40 years ago. Most cases are due to trauma at delivery, which is not necessarily excessive or inappropriate. Given the uncertainty about the appropriate management of these infants, serious consideration should be given to a formal clinical trial of microsurgical nerve repair.

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