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Understanding Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy

When you have a baby, you want him or her to be healthy. Even if the pregnancy goes well, you're probably aware that delivery can impact your child's health. Some children end up with a condition called hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy.

Basically speaking, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy is a lack of oxygen and blood flow to the brain. When this happens, the brain cells suffer injuries. Some cells have the ability to recover, but many die as a result of the lack of blood, nutrients and oxygen.

This condition, abbreviated as HIE, can happen before birth, during birth or following birth. In many cases, the conditions that lead to HIE can be treated or remedied if a medical provider realizes that the mother or child is in danger.

How does hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy happen?

Usually, HIE happens as a result of umbilical knots, low maternal blood pressure, placental abruptions, placental insufficiencies or uterine rupture. However, other causes include trauma suffered during delivery, cord prolapse and other serious conditions. HIE is diagnosed by using an EEG, ultrasound or MRI to check the child's brain. The child may present with symptoms including low muscle tone, depressed or absent reflexes, blue or pale skin, seizures, acidosis, a low heart rate or no heart rate, or others.

What do doctors do when a child presents with HIE?

If a child has symptoms of HIE, it's normal to begin therapeutic hypothermia. This can reduce the risk of death in some babies and reduce disabilities in others. A cooling may be performed on the child's entire body, but many providers use a cooling cap that affects the head only. Other medical supports may also be used to treat the child as he or she recovers.

In some instances, HIE is a result of medical errors. If that's the case, parents can pursue a claim to obtain compensation for their child's care.

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