Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy, or HIE, is an extremely dangerous birth injury. About 20-50% of cases kill babies. The survivors are often left with traumatic brain injuries, organ damage, and similar serious health issues. A doctor can cause HIE, so it’s important to learn what causes this condition.
If you believe someone on your medical team caused your baby to have HIE, then you need to speak with a birth injury lawyer immediately. Our team can get your baby the care and compensation they need to cope with the aftereffects of HIE.
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Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy Explained
HIE is a complicated medical term, but the cause for it is in the name. Let’s break it down. Encephalopathy is the medical term for a brain illness, literally “illness inside the skull.” You may be familiar with neuropathy, which is an illness of the nerves.
The term hypoxic-ischemic reveals the two root causes of HIE. Hypoxic means “low oxygen”, or not getting enough air. Ischemic means a lack of blood flow. You may know the term from an ischemic stroke, which happens when a blood clot blocks blood flow to the brain.
Hypoxia and ischemic blood flow often go together because the blood transports oxygen. Put it all together and you have “an illness of the brain caused by a lack of blood or oxygen to the brain.”
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What Causes HIE to Happen?
Now that we know what causes HIE, how does a lack of oxygen or blood happen to a baby in the first place? There are many causes, and not all of them can be healed by a doctor. Since a doctor must commit negligence to win a malpractice lawsuit, it’s vital to rule out causes that modern medicine can’t prevent.
HIE can happen during pregnancy for reasons like:
- Heart disease
- Lung formation problems
- Fetal anemia
- Substance abuse by the mother
- Congenital infections
- Preeclampsia (high blood pressure during pregnancy)
- Anything that affects blood flow to the placenta
A doctor can sometimes cure or treat these conditions if detected in time. HIE can also happen during labor and delivery with things like:
- Bleeding from the placenta (e.g., abruption)
- Rupture of the uterus
- Low blood pressure in the mother
- Umbilical cord problems (wrapping around the baby, pinching, prolapse, etc.)
- Meconium aspiration syndrome
It can also happen just after birth for reasons like:
- Heart or lung disease in the baby
- A major infection
- Low blood pressure in the baby
- Respiratory failure
- Premature birth
How Does Brain Injury Happen From HIE?
When a brain completely lacks oxygen, death can happen in under five minutes. Yet brain damage can still happen from too little oxygen. The injury is more severe as oxygen levels drop and time passes without returning to normal oxygen levels.
There are three stages of brain damage that happen from HIE. First, brain cells start to die immediately because of a lack of oxygen and glucose in the blood. Then there is a recovery period of about six hours where some cells recover. This is a critical time for treatment.
The last stage injures the brain more as blood flow returns to normal. The dead brain cells have to be flushed out, which can spread toxins inside the brain that can damage more cells. This phase can last 24 to 48 hours.
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Prognosis of HIE
The National Institutes of Health states that 25-60% of the survivors of HIE suffer long-term complications. If treatments like therapeutic hypothermia are applied, the chances of death or long-term complications are reduced.
It’s rare for a child to recover completely from HIE though. Brain damage is notoriously hard to heal and babies are very vulnerable to changes in brain state. Babies who have had HIE can suffer from:
- Cerebral Palsy
- Intellectual, behavioral, or developmental disabilities
- Speech and language problems
- Visual or hearing impairment.
These problems may not become noticeable until your child reaches school age, so it’s important for you to know the signs of potential HIE complications so you can take action. HIE may have been caused by malpractice. If you wait too long to start your case, you could lose the opportunity to get compensation.
How Doctors Diagnose Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy
The Apgar test is a standard test performed twice after birth to detect signs of HIE. It’s usually performed at one minute and five minutes after birth. This test measures breathing, muscle tone, reflexes, and other signs of healthy oxygen intake.
If your baby has a low Apgar score, then your medical team should have taken action to see what the problem was and help your baby get more oxygen. They may also run additional tests to narrow down the problem. If HIE is suspected, your baby should have received a brain MRI within 96 hours of birth to confirm the diagnosis.
HIE is serious enough that your doctors should take action to treat the condition if they suspect it happened. If the Apgar tests weren’t performed or done incorrectly, or if the doctors didn’t take steps to treat potential HIE, then speak with a birth injury lawyer right away. You may have a case.
What Should I Do if My Child Is Diagnosed With HIE?
The first thing is to get your child the care they need. If therapeutic hypothermia is still an option, that treatment has the best outcome for preventing further damage. After that, your child needs to be tested to see which areas of the brain were affected and start therapy to help those parts recover as best as possible.
Caring for a child with HIE can be incredibly expensive. They may need lifelong care in severe cases. You may have also lost your child. After the immediate medical crisis has passed, the next step is to speak with a birth injury lawyer in your state.
While medical malpractice doesn’t cause all cases of HIE, it causes enough to make it worth your time to see if you have a case. To get connected with a lawyer experienced in HIE causes in your area, contact the Birth Injury Lawyers Group right away.