Most infants in the United States are delivered without incident, but every now and then you hear about a case where a newborn infant is injured during childbirth. These incidents are known as birth injuries and while they happen quite rarely, families are still impacted to a devastating degree every time a case presents itself. Some birth injury cases are unavoidable, but many can be prevented with proper fetal monitoring, early risk assessment, and a response and intervention plan that allows doctors and hospital staff members to quickly manage any complications. One of the most common–and dangerous—types of birth injuries is called hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy or hypoxic ischemia, often simply referred to as HIE.
HIE is directly caused by a lack of oxygen to a newborn’s brain during the process of delivery. This state of being deprived of oxygen is often known as asphyxia. A newborn infant can survive for a very short period of time while experiencing fetal asphyxia, but after being deprived of oxygen for more than a few minutes, a newborn’s brain tissue will start to suffer irreversible damage, becoming permanently destroyed.
Causes of Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy
There are many different causes of HIE and fetal asphyxia. Causes can occur before, during, or after the birth of the newborn. Some of the complications which commonly cause HIE during the antepartum period of pregnancy include maternal diabetes, preeclampsia, cardiac disease, congenital infections, fetal anemia, drug/alcohol abuse, and lung malformations.
During the labor and delivery process and even shortly after, common complications and causes include the following:
- Low maternal or neonatal blood pressure
- Injury from umbilical cord complication
- Prolonged, late stages of labor
- Abnormal fetal position
- Rupture of the placenta or uterus
- Hemorrhage (excessive bleeding)
- Injury from cephalopelvic disproportion
- Infections (sepsis, meningitis)
- Severe prematurity
- Brain or skull trauma
- Congenital brain malformation
- Cardiac or pulmonary complication
- Medical negligence
In some cases, identifying a definitive cause for HIE can be extremely difficult. Many causes are unavoidable, but others can be prevented during the mother’s pregnancy as well as during the delivery of the child. Proper fetal monitoring is essential, along with regular checkups during the mother’s pregnancy in order to identify any early risk factors that may lead to complications. Doctors must also take instantaneous action during the child’s delivery if asphyxia should ever occur for whatever reason. If these requirements are not met, hospital negligence or medical malpractice may be one possible cause for a newborn’s HIE condition.
Implications of Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy
Research indicates that hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy is one of the leading causes of death or severe impairment among infants. HIE is also directly linked to cerebral palsy, but remains one of the rarer causes of the condition, accounting for roughly 9% of cerebral palsy cases.
The conditions and future implications of HIE will vary based on how long the child was deprived of oxygen and whether the infant experienced mild, moderate, or severe symptoms. Most of the time, newborns with mild HIE symptoms can enjoy their lives unaffected by HIE while children with severe symptoms may have a shortened lifespan as well as experience a variety of painful, debilitating complications and conditions throughout their lives.
Early symptoms of HIE include the following:
- Low heart rate
- Poor muscle tone
- Weak breathing
- Meconium-stained amniotic fluid
- Pale or bluish skin color
- Excessive acid in the blood
- Organ dysfunction, especially of the heart, lungs, liver, and kidneys
- Seizures, especially within the first 24 hours of life
When early symptoms present themselves, a wide range of tests is usually issued to determine whether or not the symptoms are due to HIE. Afterwards, a treatment course is planned which can include breathing therapy, anesthesia, oxygen treatments, and medications to control the baby’s heart functions, blood glucose levels, and seizures.
Children diagnosed with moderate to severe HIE usually need to be placed on medication for the rest of their lives and may eventually develop cognitive impairments, motor skill development delays, neurodevelopment delays, and even epilepsy or cerebral palsy.
Ending the Silence
The only way to truly prevent hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy is by eliminating prolonged asphyxia during pregnancy and childbirth. Many doctors will claim that HIE is unpreventable, but with proper fetal monitoring and prenatal care, most cases of HIE can be prevented entirely. If you or someone you know has a child who has suffered from conditions or symptoms associated with HIE and you feel hospital negligence might be one or more causes, the family of the child is more than entitled to seek legal and financial compensation for everything they’ve endured.
Doctors and hospitals need to learn to take the proper preventative measures to ensure prolonged asphyxia does not occur during childbirth. Understaffed delivery wards and rushed newborn deliveries are not an excuse. A Louisville medical malpractice lawyer like Tad Thomas of Thomas Law Offices is experienced in complicated malpractice cases and is willing to fight for you and your loved ones to ensure cases of HIE do not keep happening. Give our Louisville, KY office a call to find out if filing a case is an option.