Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy 

Birth injuries are among the most devastating personal injuries. Severe injuries can set an infant up for a lifetime of developmental and neurological issues, putting an unexpected financial and emotional strain on the family. While some birth injuries cannot be anticipated, others can. Where medical professionals fail to take timely, appropriate action to mitigate a brain injury, the family may be eligible to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

What is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) refers to brain dysfunction that is linked to a lack of oxygen to the brain and a lack of adequate blood flow. It is the less severe form of anoxia.

What is an Anoxic Brain Injury?

Anoxic brain injury refers to situations in which there is a complete absence of oxygen. In the case of childbirth, it could mean that certain organs are denied oxygen. Cerebral anoxia, for example, occurs when the brain receives absolutely no oxygen. This typically results in brain damage and can cause cerebral palsy and other medical conditions.

By contrast, hypoxia refers to situations in which the infant or part of the infant’s body suffers from diminished oxygen levels, but not the complete absence of oxygen.

What is Oxygen Deprivation and What Causes it?

Oxygen deprivation occurs when there is a lack of oxygen to the infant’s brain. It can occur any time during gestation, for a variety of reasons.

  • Preeclampsia (maternal high blood pressure)
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Lack of blood flow to the placenta
  • Rupture of the placenta
  • Low blood pressure (maternal)
  • Lung malformation
  • Infection
  • Issues with the umbilical cord
  • Premature birth
  • Brain or skull trauma
  • Cardiac or pulmonary disease
Hypoxia occurs when the infant or part of the infant’s body suffers from a lack of oxygen or diminished oxygen levels. Anoxia occurs when the infant or part of the infant’s body has no oxygen at all.

What are Symptoms of Hypoxic-Ischemic Brain Injury?

  • Symptoms of hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy:
  • Lethargy
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Labored or no breathing
  • Discoloration
  • Behavioral issues
  • Feeding issues
  • Irregular heart rate or blood pressure

What are HIE Treatments?

There are currently no known treatments for hypoxic-ischemic brain injury. Most treatment is aimed at supporting the infant’s organs. In some situations, hypothermia (brain cooling) is used to cool the infant’s body temperature and manage the risk of long-term neurological problems. This treatment, however, is only beneficial to a small group of infants with HIE and may help only one in eight babies who have moderate to severe HIE (it is not used in infants with mild HIE). Furthermore, cooling must be done within six hours of birth.

How is HIE Diagnosed?

HIE is typically diagnosed after birth, when the infant can be monitored for a few days. There are, however, some signs before birth of the potential for HIE. Before birth, doctors can examine the heart rate and fetal movement. After birth, an abnormal neurologic exam is used to diagnose and classify the HIE’s severity. Among the tests used are the Sarnat Scale, an EEG, ultrasound, MRI and an analysis of cord blood gas levels.

How Common is Hypoxic Brain Injury?

According to the Florida Neonatal Neurologic Network, a hypoxic brain injury occurs in approximately 3-20 per 1,000 live, full-term births. In premature infants, HIE occurs in up to 60 percent of live births. Anywhere from 10 to 60 percent of infants with HIE die when they are newborns.

What are the Long-Term Effects of HIE?

The long-term HIE effects vary depending on the severity, but can include death, cerebral palsy, and other cognitive and developmental issues.
  • For those with mild HIE, fewer than five percent will have a severe disability.
  • For those with moderate HIE, between 25 and 75 percent will have a severe disability or die at a young age.
  • For those with severe HIE, more than 75 percent will have a severe disability or die at a young age.

Long-term effects can also vary depending on the infant. Two infants with similar injury patterns may have very different long-term effects.

My Infant Developed HIE, Can I File a Lawsuit?

If there were signs the infant suffered lack of oxygen or blood flow and the doctor or medical professional did not take proper steps to address the issue, you may be eligible to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against your health care provider.

An experienced birth injury lawyer will review your case and determine if there is reason to believe the medical professional failed to act in the way a reasonable medical professional would, causing your infant to suffer harm. In such situations, it is possible to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Birth Injury Attorneys

At Cutter Law P.C., we understand how devastating a birth injury like hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy can be on you and your family. Our attorneys specialize in personal injury and medical malpractice lawsuits and draw from their advanced medical knowledge to obtain justice for you. While we know that no amount of money can take away the devastation of a birth injury, we also know that compensation can ease the financial burden you may face if your infant requires a lifetime of medical care.

Birth injuries are among the most devastating personal injuries. We’re here to help.

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Sacramento Office
401 Watt Avenue Suite 100
Sacramento, CA 95864
Phone: 916-290-9400

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Cutter Law P.C.
1999 Harrison Street Suite 1400
Oakland, CA 94612

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