Medical Issues

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy Explained

What Is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is a type of infant brain damage.

  • Hypoxic means lack of or insufficient oxygen
  • Ischemic means lack of or insufficient blood flow
  • Encephalopathy is defined as disease or damage to the brain

So, HIE refers to the deprivation of oxygen or blood to an infant’s developing brain.

When Does HIE Occur?

HIE typically occurs either in utero, during childbirth, or immediately after delivery. A baby can be born with HIE due to underlying issues during the pregnancy that are not addressed or cannot be corrected or trauma that occurred during or after the birth process.

Primary Causes of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy

The leading causes of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy after the birth has occurred include:

  • Low birthweight and preterm babies with underdeveloped structures and systems
  • Malformations or diseases of the baby’s heart or lungs
  • Infections
  • Extremely low blood pressure in the infant
  • Brain or skull trauma or brain malformations

Risk Factors

Low-weight (preterm) babies are at increased risk for Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy. However, HIE can happen to any child, including those developing normally during the pregnancy but are deprived of oxygen or blood during the delivery or shortly thereafter.

Medical professionals must be extra vigilant in following the development of at-risk mothers and babies, ensuring that their little brains are developing appropriately. At-risk pregnancies that need extra medical attention for HIE include:

  • Mothers who have cardiac disease, advanced diabetes with circulatory issues, and vascular disease in general
  • Mothers who have experienced issues with blood supply to the placenta or have other placental issues, including placenta previa
  • Mothers who are addicted to drugs or alcohol
  • Mothers who are at risk for preeclampsia, a condition of high blood pressure during pregnancy
  • Babies who show signs of anemia during the pregnancy
  • Babies who exhibit evidence of lung problems and malformations

Once childbirth is underway, other risk factors can contribute to HIE. These include:

  • Prolonged labor (the leading cause of HIE), including prolonged time in the birth canal
  • Breech birth or unusual position of the baby during delivery, which can lead to prolonged labor
  • Umbilical cord asphyxia (being strangled by the umbilical cord for a short or long time)
  • Steep drop or dramatic spike in the mother’s blood pressure during delivery
  • Rupture of the placenta or injury or damage to the uterus

In the hugely significant hours following childbirth, infants can still be at risk for HIE.

What Are the Early Symptoms of HIE?

A baby born with HIE will often receive intensive care, and the symptoms will be present immediately. These are the warning signs that HIE has occurred:

  • Baby’s skin color indicates poor circulation (blue or pale)
  • Meconium (the first “poop”) has occurred before delivery and is present in the amniotic fluid
  • The baby’s breathing is poor, insufficient, labored, or irregular
  • The baby’s muscle tone is not good, and its reflexes are below normal

Medical staff will confirm an HIE diagnosis after ordering MRIs, CT scans, and ultrasounds, in addition to EKGs and EEGs.

What Are the Long-Term Effects of HIE?

In the hospital, significant intervention will often be needed to manage and try to reverse the effects of the HIE. Extended stays in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit may be necessary, during which the baby’s temperature and breathing will be monitored and assisted with ventilators and even hyperbaric chambers. The baby’s heart functioning and blood pressure will also need to be stabilized through the use of mechanical devices and prescription drug therapy. Only when the child is stable will they be allowed to return home with you.

Once you return home with an HIE child, you may incur significant expenses to manage the effects of the HIE. Until the child reaches three or four years of age, it may be impossible to predict the long-term consequences.

Depending on the severity of the HIE, your baby may face developmental delays and roadblocks including:

  • May be more fragile than other children
  • May develop more slowly than other children
  • Learning or cognitive difficulties.
  • Delays in motor development (both fine motor and gross motor)
  • Issues with breathing, swallowing, and eating
  • Seizure disorders
  • Neurological functioning
  • Heart and lung issues
  • Shortened lifespan in the most severe cases

How Will Your Baby’s HIE Affect Your Family?

You can expect to incur significant expenses in order to ensure the safety of your child. You may need to provide specialized medical treatment, including physical and speech therapy, and/or provide specialized childcare. Childcare may be paid for or provided by a parent, which could mean that a parent may no longer be able to earn a wage. Your child may require adaptive equipment and special dietary accommodations. Further down the road, your child may need continued educational intervention, including psychological and neurological evaluation and further therapies as needed.

HIE & Medical Malpractice

When a newborn brain does not get sufficient oxygen or blood, a serious medical emergency has occurred, and long-term effects may result. HIE can result from a congenital disability or abnormality; in such cases, there is usually no medical malpractice or negligence involved. However, HIE can also result from mistakes made by medical professionals shortly before, during, and after childbirth.

It is important to obtain expert medical advice if your child has been diagnosed with HIE. HIE’s short- and long-term effects vary based on how long the brain was deprived of oxygen and blood and what caused the deprivation.

HIE resulting from trauma during the actual childbirth process is often preventable and may be a medical malpractice case. 

The laws in Michigan take into account that there are some conditions for which the long-term effects and costs are not fully definable until a child is older. However, that does not mean a parent or guardian can wait until the child is older to contact an attorney. Much of the investigation and documentation may need to take place during the beginning of the child’s life.

If you believe your child’s HIE was caused by medical negligence, it’s critical to contact an experienced attorney as soon as possible.

Take Action Today

If your child was born with HIE, contact Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys immediately. We will evaluate your case to determine if mistakes were made by medical staff, causing or contributing to the HIE.

When you call Giroux Pappas Trial Attorneys, we thoroughly evaluate your case to determine if medical malpractice is present. We investigate and document all that is necessary to build a case on your child’s behalf.

We also want to ensure that insurance companies and medical professionals meet your family’s and child’s future needs. We are honored to do our part in helping your child and family get the justice they deserve. Nobody can control the past, but your child’s future is in your hands.

Contact us today to schedule a free case evaluation.

Share this Article
Carri Whittemore

Carri Whittemore's Bio

She is passionate about digging deep into medical information for the answers that will ensure her clients receive the justice that they deserve. She has long standing relationships with experts in the medical field that she can call on to support her cases and she is sought out by the partners to lend her expertise in working up a case for trial.