Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy: what it is, how it is treated

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy is a type of birth injury that expectant mothers in Washington may want to know more about. It is a brain dysfunction (encephalopathy) caused by a shortage of oxygen going to the brain (hypoxia) and of blood reaching the brain (ischemia). Among full-term infants, it arises in anywhere from three to 20 out of every 1,000 live births. That rate goes up to 60% among pre-term infants.

In some cases, the cause of HIE is unknown, but many factors can be involved.However, one of the most unfortunate is the failure of health care providers to recognize and respond to fetal distress, for example by quickly delivering the baby by Caesarian delivery. This results in the baby being deprived of ogygen for extended periods causing permanent damage.  Cerebral palsy is one of the possible results of HIE.

There are mild, moderate and severe forms of HIE. Less than 5% of infants with mild HIE will develop long-term issues, but 75% of those with severe HIE may be left with a severe handicap. Some may develop cerebral palsy, while others may suffer seizures.

The only treatment for HIE (moderate and severe HIE, that is) that specifically targets the brain is whole body hypothermia. By bringing the baby's temperature down three or four degrees, it can lower the chances of a neurodevelopmental handicap.

Since the cause is sometimes hard to tell, parents may not know for certain if negligence was behind the injury. However, if doctor negligence is to blame, parents may be able to file a claim under birth injury law. Many malpractice claims end in million-dollar settlements, so plaintiffs can expect strong opposition. With a lawyer, however, a plaintiff may strive for a fair amount in damages that covers past and future medical expenses and other losses. It all begins with a case evaluation.

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