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What are the Factors that Lead to Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy

Jason Reese

Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy

Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is a condition in which restricted blood flow leads to a deficient supply of cerebral oxygen; thus causing damaged brain and neural cells. This condition is a form of birth asphyxia, prevalent among intrauterine children and infants. Research by the Florida Neonatal Neurologic Network suggests that HIE affects about 2% of full-term births. These effects manifest in multiple ways, but among the most notable are Cerebral Palsy and neonatal deaths, which combined impact millions of families worldwide.

HIE & Birth Asphyxia Statistics

  • ~14% of cerebral palsy cases are caused by HIE (Cerebral Palsy Group).
  • Somewhere between 10-60% of infants affected by HIE pass while still in the newborn period (ABC Law Centers).
  • ~25% of infants that survive HIE suffer long-term neurological impairments, such as cerebral palsy (ABC Law Centers)
  • Infant oxygen deprivation is estimated to cause about 840,000 annual neonatal deaths (Birth Injury Guide)

In order to combat this often heartbreaking condition, it is essential to understand the potential causes of HIE, so that mothers and families can do everything in their power to remain healthy and provide the safest possible environment for their children. Some of the most common factors leading to HIE include the following (HIE Help Center):

  • Umbilical cord becomes looped or tightly wound around the baby’s neck
  • Umbilical cord becomes lodged between the baby and the mother’s pelvis, sustaining large amount of pressure that can cause blood flow to slow down or completely cease
  • High risk pregnancies, causes including obesity, high blood pressure, autoimmune disorders, and drug or alcohol use during pregnancy
  • Uterine rupture, in which the womb tears during birth
  • Placenta detaching from uterus before delivery
  • Cervix opening too early
  • Inadequate levels of amniotic fluid
  • Errors in labor or delivery, for example:
    • Heart rate not being properly monitored
    • Failure to prevent premature birth
    • Prolonged pregnancy
    • Vaginal delivery when baby is in breech or too large to fit through pelvis
    • Administering induction drugs that cause excessive contractions

Given these factors, it is also important to know how HIE presents itself and what the symptoms are, so that mothers and families can recognize the condition and provide treatment as soon as possible. Common symptoms include the following:

  • Skin discoloration (pale or blue)
  • Disturbed breathing patterns
  • Seizures
  • Low muscle tone
  • Apgar score of less than three which persists for more than five minutes

Unfortunately, at this time there is no known cure for HIE (HIE Help Center), but a treatment is available and widely used. This treatment is known as hypothermia therapy, or cooling therapy. The procedure must take place within six hours of HIE diagnosis and requires a cooling cap or cooling blanket for about three days in order to minimize brain damage. The cooling slows down the rate of harmful substances and brain cell death before the baby is taken back to a normal body temperature. While this is the only treatment available, a child who suffers HIE will often undergo other therapies in order to combat the affects. These therapies can include ventilation, seizure medications, fluid and blood pressure management, and maintain blood glucose levels.

HIE can’t always be prevented, but education is key for mothers to combat it. Knowing the causes, regularly consulting your doctor, along with retaining health and maintaining nutrition during pregnancy are actions that mothers and families can take to prevent Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy in newborns.

Talk to a Law Firm You Can Trust

Birth injuries are a traumatic experience for all involved. HIE is especially difficult as it can lead to long term consequences or even death. Our experienced defective medical malpractice attorneys at Wagner Reese can provide you the legal support and advice you need to get justice and receive compensation for the injuries to your child that could have been prevented.

Simply give us a call today at (888) 204-8440 to schedule a free consultation or speak with us by submitting our online form and our attorneys will review your information.

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