Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) and Cerebral Palsy


Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a type of brain injury that affects newborns. The cause of HIE is oxygen deprivation (also called “asphyxia”) that occurs during labor or delivery or during pregnancy in the weeks leading up to birth. The lack of oxygen kills brain cells and destroys brain tissues. The resulting brain damage can cause different types of impairments of varying levels of severity.

The degree of disability that HIE causes depends on how long the newborn was deprived of oxygen and what area of the brain was affected. Symptoms can be mild, moderate, or severe. Infants with mild or moderate symptoms may recover, but those with severe symptoms may have serious permanent disabilities.

What Is the Relationship Between Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy and Cerebral Palsy?

The brain damage caused by hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy may develop into cerebral palsy, a disorder that impairs a child’s movements. Approximately 10 percent of the cases of cerebral palsy are caused by HIE.

The two disorders are usually diagnosed at different times. HIE is often diagnosed right after birth, while cerebral palsy is usually diagnosed later. That is because the symptoms of cerebral palsy may not become evident until a child misses developmental milestones.

HIE can also cause other conditions besides cerebral palsy, including other neurological impairments, seizure disorders, and intellectual impairments.

What Are the Signs That a Newborn or Infant Has Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?

If the birth was traumatic, or if there was a risk factor during pregnancy, such a fetal stroke, those are signs that a newborn may have hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. Other signs include seizures, coma, blue skin, poor muscle tone, low heart rate, and breathing problems.

Even without those early signs, doctors and parents should be alert for symptoms as the infant develops, including delayed growth, missing developmental milestones, or impaired motor function. Any of these may indicate that an infant has HIE.

Are There Any Tests to Detect Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?

Medical tests used to help diagnose hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy in a newborn include MRI scans, CT scans, testing the pH of umbilical cord blood, and Apgar scores.

Can Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy Be Treated?

Hypothermia treatment applied shortly after birth may decrease the chances that infants will develop cerebral palsy or, if they do, the treatment may decrease the severity of the symptoms. The treatment can also lessen the chances of developing other neurological disorders and can increase the overall chances of survival.

The timing of the treatment is important. The exact time will vary by individual, but hypothermia treatment usually must be administered within 6 to 12 hours after birth.

Hypothermia treatment may also be called brain hypothermia, hypothermia therapy, therapeutic hypothermia, neonatal cooling, or cooling therapy. It involves cooling the infant’s temperature to around 92.3 degrees Fahrenheit, using a cooling blanket or a cap. The cooling may involve the infant’s whole body or just the head. The newborn’s temperature is kept low for 72 hours, which slows his or her metabolic rate, allowing brain cells time to recover.

It may be medical malpractice if a newborn shows signs of HIE and needs hypothermia treatment but does not receive it.

Can Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy Be Caused by Medical Negligence?

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy can sometimes, but not always, be prevented. Competent prenatal care will help reduce the risk of asphyxia occurring during pregnancy. Proper medical management is especially important in high-risk pregnancies.

Mistakes made in the delivery room can also cause HIE. These errors include delivery staff not being made aware of any special needs, delayed delivery, not properly treating the baby’s or mother’s infections, umbilical cord issues, placental complications, cervical issues, uterine rupture, and trauma to the newborn’s head.

Doctors and other medical professionals are required to follow the appropriate standard of care at all times. If a doctor fails to do what a reasonably competent doctor in his or her position would do, and because of that, the doctor makes medical mistakes that cause harm to a patient, then the doctor’s actions may be considered negligent.

What Can You Do if Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy or Cerebral Palsy Are the Result of Medical Negligence?

If your child had hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy and/or developed cerebral palsy, and either or both of these conditions were the result of medical negligence, you may be able to sue the medical professionals and/or the hospital for medical malpractice.

You may receive compensation for doctor’s visits, hospital procedures, rehabilitation, and wheelchairs or other necessary medical devices — both for current expenses and for those projected to occur in the future. You could also be awarded compensation for your own losses relating to your child’s condition, including pain and suffering and lost wages.

Proving that medical malpractice caused or contributed to HIE or the development of cerebral palsy is a complex area of the law that requires an experienced birth injury lawyer to properly find and present the medical evidence.

Call Raynes & Lawn for a Free Consultation

If your child was diagnosed with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, cerebral palsy, or both, and you think that medical negligence may have contributed to your child’s condition, you may want to consult a medical malpractice lawyer.

At the law firm of Raynes & Lawn, we pride ourselves on our commitment to every client. We have been recognized for our outstanding results, with our attorneys regularly appearing on lists of top attorneys in the state, lawyers of the year, and best lawyers in America.

We have been named a Tier One firm for medical malpractice claims. Our trial lawyers leave no stone unturned in their pursuit of justice for people who have been harmed by medical negligence.

We would be glad to talk to you and hear about what happened to your child. We will evaluate your case and tell you what your options are going forward. Call us at 1-800-535-1797 to set up a free no-obligation consultation.


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