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Thursday, 4 May, 2000, 23:22 GMT 00:22 UK
Surviving twins 'at risk of defects'

When a twin dies, the survivor may have problems
When one twin dies during pregnancy, the surviving infant may not develop properly, say researchers.

Doctors looked at hundreds of cases in which one twin had died in utero - prior to birth- and found the risk of developmental problems in the remaining child was much higher.

It is already known that surviving twins are at a greater risk of death either during pregnancy or shortly after birth.

It is thought that either genetic weaknesses shared by the twins trigger both the foetal death and the developmental defects, or that the death of the first foetus has unknown knock-on effects on the progress of the other.

The research was carried out at Liverpool University, and published in the Lancet medical journal.

It looked at all registered twin births in England and Wales between 1993 and 1995, and sent letters to the GPs of parents who had suffered a death of one twin in utero.

One-in-five risk

A twin born following the death of its co-twin has a one-in-five risk of "cerebral impairment".

Most of the defects involved some form of cerebral palsy, and the majority came from same sex twin pairs.

This supports the theory that identical twins - two foetuses created when a single fertilised egg splits - are more likely to be affected, with a shared genetic defect the root of the problem.

Dr Mary-Jane Platt, from the University of Liverpool, said that doctors should be on the lookout for cerebral palsy and other problems in surviving twins.

"It's not a question of looking harder for these abnormalities - as they will always show up. But doctors should be aware that this is a potential problem.

"Because the risk is so much higher in like-sex twins, it suggests a genetic cause."

Deaths of one twin in utero are still fairly rare - 434 among the thousands of twins born during the two years of the study.

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