Could Infant Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy Be Caused by Medical Malpractice?

infant encephalopathyNo one ever wants to think about a baby suffering a birth injury, let alone a brain injury that can affect her for the rest of her life. Unfortunately, there are times during labor and delivery when a baby could be deprived of oxygen, which can lead to a birth brain injury like hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

What Is HIE?

Hypoxic means a lack of oxygen. Ischemic means a low blood flow to vital organs, and encephalopathy means affecting the brain. Thus, HIE is a birth brain injury that is caused by a lack of oxygen. It is sometimes referred to as birth asphyxia (or oxygen deprivation). Sadly, birth asphyxia is the cause of hundreds of thousands of infant deaths around the world and the cause of many disabilities in children. In fact, HIE sometimes leads to cerebral palsy.

How Does HIE Occur?

When the brain is deprived of any amount of oxygen, brain cells can get injured and die off. This can occur during labor and delivery for many reasons such as:

  • Prolonged late stages of labor
  • Umbilical cord complications
  • Uterine rupture
  • Preeclampsia
  • Maternal hypotension
  • Birth trauma

While there are many causes of HIE, medical negligence often plays a huge part in an infant not receiving an adequate supply of oxygen to the brain. Any of the aforementioned causes could have occurred as a result of a doctor making a critical mistake or not acting quickly enough. Sadly, an infant can suffer motor impairments, cognitive delays, and severe developmental setbacks as a result of oxygen deprivation at birth. Unfortunately, these impairments aren’t often apparent until a child is a little older. This is why it is critical that if oxygen deprivation occurs at birth, an infant has the correct tests in order to diagnose a possible HIE condition.

How Is HIE Diagnosed and Treated?

If a doctor knows an infant suffered oxygen deprivation, or if a birth was traumatic, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy may be suspected. There are several other signs that may indicate HIE including seizures, poor muscle tone, labored breathing, blue colored skin at birth, abnormal blood pressure, irregular heartbeat, lethargy, poor feeding, excessive acid in the blood, and the presence of meconium in the amniotic fluid. In addition, if an infant shows signs of organ dysfunction after birth, it could indicate possible HIE.

If any of these symptoms are apparent and a doctor may suspect HIE, a baby should quickly undergo an MRI scan and ultrasound tests. Other tests may include a CT scan and an electrocardiogram (EKG). After HIE is diagnosed, treatment needs to begin as soon as possible to treat a baby’s affected organs and to help restore functions, prevent disabilities, and stop additional brain damage. The types of treatments may vary a little depending on the severity of the birth injury, but generally the treatment for HIE includes:

  • Maintain normal blood pressure and glucose levels. There are various treatments that can help control a baby’s blood pressure and glucose levels, but generally a baby is medically monitored and given different medications that can help.
  • Reduce seizures. Oftentimes babies with HIE are placed under anesthesia and given medications to help prevent seizures or control the seizures.
  • Use of mechanical ventilation. By placing a baby on a ventilator, it can help a baby breathe without stress.
  • Cooling therapy. This type of therapy can help slow brain damage and reduce swelling by cooling the brain and body. Generally, cooling therapy brings down a baby’s temperature lower than the natural body temperature for the purpose of slowing brain cell death and reducing brain damage.

Sometimes HIE may be mild and symptoms may resolve within a day, whereas moderate HIE may resolve within weeks with the proper treatment. Unfortunately, the most severe level of HIE results in long-term complications and disabilities. Although some babies may recover from HIE following treatment, others do not and may live with impairments for life.

If your child suffered HIE or any type of birth injury as a result of medical negligence, you need to consult an attorney as soon as possible. Even if you aren’t sure that you have a case, our law firm will listen to you and answer your questions in a complimentary consultation.