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What makes HIE dangerous to newborns?

On Behalf of | Jun 26, 2024 | Birth Injuries

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a brain injury that occurs in newborns when their brain is deprived of oxygen or blood flow for a period. This lack of oxygen can cause cell death and damage to brain development. While the severity of HIE varies, it’s a serious condition that can lead to lifelong challenges for both parent and child.

What causes HIE?

Several factors can contribute to HIE during pregnancy, labor and delivery. Common causes include umbilical cord issues, such as prolapse or wrapping around the baby’s neck, placental abruption – where the placenta detaches from the uterus prematurely – or prolonged labor. Maternal health conditions like severe infections, preeclampsia or hypotension can also lead to HIE. These situations hinder the proper flow of oxygen and blood to the baby’s brain, triggering the onset of HIE.

Why is HIE dangerous?

The brain is highly dependent on a constant supply of oxygen. When oxygen supply is restricted, brain cells begin to die. The seriousness of the injury depends on the duration of oxygen deprivation and the specific areas of the brain affected. Severe cases of HIE can lead to cerebral palsy and epilepsy. It can also cause intellectual disabilities and motor skill impairments. The potential for lifelong disabilities makes HIE a daunting diagnosis for parents and healthcare providers alike.

What are the symptoms of HIE?

Depending on the severity of the injury, symptoms of HIE can vary. Some newborns may exhibit low Apgar scores, seizures, trouble breathing and poor reflexes. Babies with HIE often show signs of distress, such as excessive crying or lethargy. They can also have abnormal muscle tones, unusual responses to light and difficulty feeding.

Is HIE treatable?

There is no cure for HIE, however there are treatments that can help minimize brain damage and improve long-term outcomes. Mild cases may result in full recovery with minimal long-term effects, while severe cases can lead to profound disabilities. Early intervention with physical, occupational and speech therapies is critical to improving outcomes for affected children.

HIE is a dangerous birth injury due to its potential to cause significant and permanent brain damage. Understanding the causes, symptoms and available treatments can help parents act swiftly to mitigate the impact. If you are concerned your child may have HIE, it’s crucial to seek immediate medical attention and legal help.