Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy is a medical emergency usually found in newborns. When doctors miss the signs and symptoms of HIE, babies die or become severely disabled. Even mild cases can have lifelong effects.
While not all cases of HIE are caused by negligence, you should still speak with a birth injury attorney to see if you may have a case. Solving the underlying problem causing HIE must be done quickly to minimize damage, but if your doctor missed the signs, then you may have a case.
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HIE Is Really Three Conditions
Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy is brain damage caused by a lack of oxygen and/or blood to the brain. This brain damage can cause a wide range of disabilities, some of which may not show until the child gets older.
HIE always has an underlying cause that stops the brain from getting blood or oxygen. Sometimes these causes cannot be prevented, but many can if a doctor or a nurse notices the signs. There are also risk factors, like premature birth, that doctors can prepare for in advance to minimize HIE events.
HIE is fatal if it isn’t stopped in time, but the damage it causes can be unpredictable after survival. Cerebral palsy, behavioral problems, sight and hearing disabilities, and other brain diseases can occur depending on how the brain gets damaged from HIE.
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Signs and Symptoms of HIE in Progress Before Birth
HIE can happen before or soon after birth. There are different signs that doctors look for at each phase. Before birth, doctors will look for signs of distress from the baby. If noticed, you may need an emergency C-section to save the baby. Some of these signs include:
- Abnormal fetal heart rate
- Severe maternal cramping
- Decreased fetal movement
- Maternal high blood pressure
- Abnormal weight in the mother (low or high)
- Vaginal bleeding
- Abnormal contraction patterns
Your doctor should notice these signs and take action to assess the health of the baby and whether it is getting enough oxygen or blood. If prenatal testing misses these symptoms or doctors don’t follow up on them, your baby may be at risk of HIE.
Signs and Symptoms of HIE After Birth
If HIE is happening soon after birth, signs like the following may show it’s happening:
- Low muscle tone
- Breathing problems
- Organ problems
- Abnormal light responsiveness
- Abnormal consciousness
- Low Apgar scores
These are all signs of a serious condition. If HIE is detected, doctors must administer therapeutic hypothermia within six hours of birth. This is the only known way to minimize the brain damage caused by hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy.
HIE damages the brain in two phases. First there is the cell death caused by the lack of blood or oxygen. This creates toxic byproducts in the brain. When blood flow returns, these toxins can damage other cells as they get flushed from the brain. Therapeutic hypothermia helps the body process the toxic byproducts more safely.
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Doctors rate brain damage in infants on a three-stage scale, sometimes called mild, moderate, and severe. These rankings come from a test called the Sarnat score. This score, along with EEG readings, help doctors come to a prognosis about HIE.
The signs examined when giving the test can tell a doctor if a child has HIE and how bad it is. The Sarnat score looks at alertness, muscle tone, presence of seizures, pupil state, respiration, and how long the symptoms have lasted.
Mild cases of HIE by this scale usually clear up on their own with few side effects. A baby might be hyperalert, tense, and have dilated pupils, but won’t have seizures or respiration problems at this stage. Worse cases have seizures, poor respiration, low muscle tone, and other signs.
Signs that HIE Happened After Birth
In cases of mild HIE, the signs of oxygen deprivation may be subtle. Evidence of damage may not appear until later in life as the child develops. Some signs that HIE may have happened include:
- Seizure disorders
- Sense impairments
- Delayed growth
- Missed developmental milestones
- Impaired motor functions
One way to detect these disabilities early is through MRIs and EEGs. Your doctor should have done at least one of these tests if they suspect HIE happened. If your doctor doesn’t do them, they may have committed medical malpractice. If so, you could be owed compensation.
There are other signs that HIE happened that are far more severe. Cerebral palsy is a common side effect of HIE events. Babies and young children may also experience heart problems, even cardiac arrest.
Treatment of HIE
When signs and symptoms of HIE are discovered, doctors must take immediate action. First, they need to solve the underlying problem causing HIE. A doctor might order an immediate C-section if an umbilical cord wraps around a baby’s neck, for instance.
Second, doctors must check for HIE through testing and administer therapeutic hypothermia if it’s there. Therapeutic hypothermia is an extremely effective treatment for slowing the damage and reducing the severity of HIE, but it must be done within six hours of birth to be effective.
After HIE has passed, they and you must care for any lingering disabilities or organ damage. Some may not appear until the child misses developmental milestones. In severe cases, the damage may be permanent.
HIE Signs and Symptoms and Malpractice
If your doctor or nurse missed the signs and symptoms of HIE or its risk factors, then you may have a malpractice case if your baby is harmed. Proving medical malpractice in babies requires the help of a birth injury lawyer in your state.
If they can prove malpractice, you could be owed significant compensation to help your child get the care they need after hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. Early intervention will maximize the chances of a positive outcome, and a lawsuit or insurance claim can help you pay for it without causing financial ruin.
Contact the Birth Injury Lawyers Group today to speak with a lawyer in your state about what happened to your baby. If they suffered any of these signs or symptoms, you may have a case. Let us confirm what happened and explain your legal options.