Hypoxia occurs when a person’s blood doesn’t contain sufficient oxygen for their body and brain tissues. It’s one of the most common injury claims that arise after the delivery of a baby. Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) can lead to a brain injury, and if not recognized and properly responded to, that brain injury can cause disorders like cognitive and physical deficits, cerebral palsy or even death. Hypoxic translates into insufficient blood, and ischemic means insufficient blood flow. Encephalopathy refers to a brain disorder. It only takes a few minutes of diminished blood flow for HIE to manifest itself, and a baby could be profoundly affected for the rest of his or her life.
Insufficient Blood Flow
Hypoxia is a known risk in the delivery of any baby. As opposed to anoxia when there is no blood flow to the baby’s brain, there is diminished blood flow with hypoxia. It can occur before, during or after the delivery of an infant. Here are a few of the potential risk factors:
- Issues with the umbilical cord like twisting, flattening or knotting.
- Placental abruption when the placenta separates from the uterus too soon.
- Shoulder dystocia.
- Placental insufficiency with decreased blood flow.
- Allowing prolonged labor to continue.
- Mismanagement of high-risk pregnancies.
Symptoms of HIE Birth Injuries
HIE symptoms generally depend on the severity of the injury to the brain and those parts of the brain that were affected. Some common HIE symptoms follow:
- Droopiness with no reactions to sights or sounds. Other affected infants might tense up and overreact to sights and sounds.
- Floppy movements or quick and abrupt movements along with seizures.
- Weak crying or incessant crying.
- Hearing, feeding and vision impairments.
- Signs of vital organ dysfunction.
Treatment for HIE
Therapeutic hypothermia is the only known successful treatment for HIE. There is strong evidence that the treatment must be started within six hours of birth. With therapeutic hypothermia, the body and brain are cooled to a temperature below normal. In turn, that cooling slows down the processes that cause widespread damage to the brain. That operates to stabilize brain cells and inhibit inflammation. Along with therapeutic hypothermia, the baby’s condition might improve with other professional supportive care. Therapeutic hypothermia has dramatically reduced disability and death from HIE by about 40%. Outcomes might still be unfavorable though, and the costs of a lifetime of care are going to be extraordinarily high.
It Can Happen at Any Time
Oxygen deprivation can occur immediately before birth when doctors and nurses fail to recognize and act on a complication. It might occur during or even after the delivery of a baby. Aside from recognizing HIE, the failure to offer therapeutic hypothermia treatment might in and of itself constitute medical malpractice.