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What Is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?

Atlanta birth injury lawyerWhen the flow of oxygen to the brain is impaired, it can have dire impacts on a person’s health. When this happens before or during birth, the effects can last for the rest of a child’s life.

One condition this can cause is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE), a condition which can also be diagnosed as perinatal encephalopathy, perinatal asphyxia, neonatal encephalopathy or birth asphyxia, according to the non-profit Hope for HIE.

What is HIE?

HIE is a multi-stage trauma rooted in a lack of oxygenated blood flow to an unborn baby before or during birth and impacts two to three children out of every 1,000 full-term births. There are a variety of factors that can cause this, including but not limited to:

  • Issues with the umbilical cord or placenta that limit the flow of blood and oxygen
  • Very low blood pressure in the mother
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Trauma from environmental or personal factors during the birth process
  • Delayed C-Section

Diagnosis shortly after birth may include poor showings on the Sarnat Scale (a tool used to categorize a baby’s presentation of health after birth or injury), as well as checking the gas level in the umbilical cord and tests such as an EEG, MRI, and ultrasound.

Some early signs of HIE include:

  • Pale or bluish skin
  • Seizures
  • Low or absent heart rate
  • Low or absent muscle tone
  • Poor reflexes or breathing

According to the National Institutes of Health, “both clinical and experimental observations demonstrate that HIE is not a single event, but is rather an evolving process. The clinical signs of HIE reflect the evolution of a delayed cascade of molecular events triggered by the initial insult,” which can have significant long-term effects. One of these effects is the possibility of long-term disability, such as cerebral palsy. In the worst cases, HIE can contribute to the death of a child.


Treatment options are limited, especially after the initial signs of distress. While other treatments are being tested around the world, the most common response currently in place, and the only one with extensive study, is therapeutic hypothermia. This involves cooling either the entire body or part of the head in a controlled environment to mitigate the effects of lower blood oxygen. This treatment has been shown to reduce the likelihood of disability and death, but is not useful in addressing disabilities that could arise.

When a child shows signs of long-term disability or suffers premature death, families want to know why it happened and how to move forward. This is especially true when the issue is one that is sometimes preventable, like HIE. A good birth injury lawyer knows how to cut through the red tape and find answers for families, even if no court case is required. Contact us today to learn how we can help you.

Categories: Birth Injury

Tyrone Law Firm

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