Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a brain injury that occurs when an infant’s brain is deprived of oxygen or blood flow for an extended time. Although the condition’s name is complex and confusing, it can be remembered and understood more easily by knowing what each word means:
- Hypoxic—Lack of oxygen
- Ischemic—Lack of blood flow
- Encephalopathy—Brain disorder
HIE is often caused by complications and injuries during delivery, but it can happen at any time before, during, and just after delivery. It’s one of the most serious birth complications that affect full-term infants, and while some infants experience only minor side effects, others experience a profound level of disability that may affect them for the rest of their lives.
HIE’s Common Causes Before and During Delivery
HIE isn’t always preventable. But in many cases, it is. And it’s up to healthcare providers, including doctors, nurses, and midwives, to detect, diagnose, and treat potential risk factors, as well as take the proper precautions and utilize the safest methods of delivery.
Causes of HIE that are often preventable/treatable include:
- Maternal infections—Although healthcare providers can’t prevent mothers from getting infections, they can reduce the risks that these infections pose to unborn babies. High-risk active infections at birth can be mitigated by administering antibiotics and performing C-sections.
- Low fetal heart rate—When labor begins, doctors and midwives must closely monitor the baby’s heart rate. If it drops, it can be indicative of fetal distress, which can lead to HIE if immediate measures aren’t taken to address the cause of the problem.
- High-risk post-term pregnancy—When signs of labor haven’t started at the 40th week of pregnancy, it’s considered a post-term pregnancy. Babies who stay in the womb for too long are at risk of HIE due to the breakdown of the placenta, which can result in oxygen deprivation.
- Failure to perform a C-section when necessary—Many conditions during labor and delivery necessitate a C-section, including fetal breech position, macrosomia (unusually large baby), or face-first position (as opposed to head-first position).
- Errors in administering labor-inducing medications—Cytotec and Pitocin are drugs that are given to women in labor to increase the strength of their contractions and speed up labor. But women who are given these drugs must be carefully monitored, as their contractions may become too strong, resulting in uterine rupture, compromised blood flow, and HIE.
- Traumatic birth and delivery—Delivery isn’t always a smooth process, and sometimes healthcare providers must use force or tools to extract babies. However, improper technique when using forceps or a vacuum extractor, or failure to monitor a baby’s heart rate and vitals during delivery, can result in HIE if significant trauma occurs.
HIE Can Occur After Delivery, Too
Unfortunately, babies who avoid HIE before and during delivery can still be affected by it immediately after delivery. Post-delivery risk factors include:
- Breathing problems—Some newborns need assistance breathing after birth, but if this emergency isn’t safely and properly handled, they can suffer from oxygen deprivation and develop HIE.
- Meconium aspiration—Meconium is a type of black, tar-like stool that’s produced by babies after delivery. However, some babies produce meconium before labor is complete, putting them at risk of aspirating it and suffering oxygen deprivation.
- Neonatal hypoglycemia—Many conditions can cause babies to experience low blood sugar, and this condition is easily treated. However, when healthcare professionals don’t monitor infant blood sugar, it can drop to dangerously low levels and result in HIE.
Was Your Baby Diagnosed with HIE? You May Have a Compensation Claim.
Many cases of HIE are preventable, as the condition often arises due to risk factors that are either ignored or that should have been discovered, diagnosed, and treated. If your baby was born with HIE, he or she may suffer from the complications of this disorder for the rest of his or her life. Your family deserves compensation for what you’ve gone through and will continue to experience for years to come.
Learn more about your legal options when your child is diagnosed with HIE.
Get in touch with the Indianapolis birth injury lawyers at Wagner Reese today for a free consultation. We know what you’re going through, and it’s our goal to get you the money you deserve for your baby’s injury.