D'Amore Personal Injury Law, LLC

What is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?

Various complications can cause hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. The damage to your child’s brain from prolonged HIE is usually called “cerebral palsy”, and it will cause a lifetime of problems. While not all instances of HIE result from medical malpractice, if your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, you should speak with a birth injury lawyer about your options.

What is a HIE?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy is a medical condition affecting the brain and organs. This medical term can be broken down into the following definitions:

  • Hypoxic means a lack of oxygen to the brain and organs
  • Ischemic means a lack of blood supply to the organs
  • Encephalopathy refers to general brain dysfunction

HIE is a general term that describes a brain injury caused by an inadequate supply of blood and oxygen to the victim’s brain. 

Other Terms for Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy

Sometimes, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy is referred to by other terms, including:

  • HIE
  • Birth asphyxia
  • Intrapartum asphyxia
  • Global hypoxic-ischemic injury

However, birth asphyxia only refers to a very narrow category of infants suffering from a brain injury.

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What are some Symptoms of a TBI?

Often, the exact cause of HIE is unknown. However, many problems during pregnancy and birth trauma during labor and delivery (also known as birth injury) can contribute to or cause HIE. 

Some of the HIE-related potential problems during pregnancy include:

  • Cardiac disease
  • Congenital infections of the fetus
  • Drug and alcohol abuse
  • Issues with blood flow to the placenta
  • Lung malformations
  • Maternal diabetes with vascular disease
  • Preeclampsia
  • Severe fetal anemia

Some of the HIE-related problems that may arise during labor and delivery include:

  • Abnormal fetus position
  • Excessive bleeding from the placenta
  • Placenta or uterus rupturing
  • Umbilical cord accidents
  • Unusually low blood pressure in the infant

HIE-related problems that may occur after delivery include:

  • Brain or skull trauma
  • Congenital malformations of the brain
  • Extremely low blood pressure in the infant
  • Serious infections, like meningitis or sepsis
  • Severe lung or heart disease
  • Severe prematurity

HIE Rate of Occurrence

HIE is relatively rare in full-term births. It occurs in roughly 0.3% to 2% of full-term, live birth infants. In premature, live birth infants, HIE is more common — it may occur in up to 60% of these cases.

HIE Types & Severity

There are three recognized categories of HIE: mild, moderate, and severe. 

  • Less than 5% of infants diagnosed with mild HIE will have a severe handicap.
  • Between 25% and 75% of moderate HIE infants will suffer from a severe handicap or early death.
  • Of the infants diagnosed with severe HIE, 75%+ will suffer from a severe handicap or early death.

Some children with HIE will experience no significant health issues, while some may experience mild or moderate effects. 

Severe handicaps may include:

Sometimes, it’s not only the brain affected by the lack of oxygen. If other organs suffer hypoxic damage, they often can return to normal functions. Therefore, hypoxic damage to the brain is the most damaging condition.

Symptoms of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy

The symptoms of HIE are often correlated to its severity. However, there are signs and symptoms to look out for in three stages:

  • Perinatal stage: before birth
  • Neonatal stage: directly after birth 
  • Later in life: several months to years later 

When a doctor fails to diagnose and prescribe treatment for HIE, it is considered medical malpractice, no matter the stage. Swift action is imperative in treating HIE. If a doctor has delayed identifying hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, your child has lost precious time to remedy the situation. The longer treatment is delayed, the higher the consequences, potentially resulting in 24/7 care.

Perinatal HIE Symptoms

Before birth, perinatal HIE symptoms may include:

  • Acidosis
  • Irregular breathing
  • Low fetal movement
  • Low heart rate
  • Meconium-stained amniotic fluid
  • Preeclampsia
  • Vaginal bleeding

Other signs of fetal distress can also indicate potential symptoms of HIE.

Neonatal HIE Symptoms

Directly following birth, neonatal HIE symptoms may include:

  • Apgar scores below three that last five or more minutes
  • Hypersensitivity or delayed response
  • Low heart rate
  • Organ damage
  • Poor muscle tone
  • Seizures

HIE Later in Life

Your doctor may detect HIE years after birth. In this case, signs and symptoms may include:

  • Developmental delays
  • Epilepsy
  • Motor function impairments
  • Visual or hearing impairments

Treating HIE in Infants

There is currently no definitive treatment for infants diagnosed with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy. Most treatments focus on supporting the baby’s affected organs. Some therapies and treatments for HIE may include:

  • Mechanical ventilation to assist breathing
  • Medications to control seizures
  • Supporting the kidney and liver
  • Supporting the heart and blood pressure

How Does Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy Manifest in Adults and Children?

Doctors most commonly diagnose HIE in infants. However, adults or children can sustain diseases or injuries that reduce oxygen flow to their brains, similar to a birth injury. HIE in adults and children is called global hypoxic-ischemic injury

In adults and children, HIE can manifest after certain injuries that may reduce oxygen to the brain, including:

  • Carbon monoxide poisoning
  • Cardiac arrest
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Drug overdose
  • Head trauma
  • Near-drowning
  • Stroke

Compensation from an HIE Lawsuit

If your child is suffering from the effects of HIE, you should consult with a birth injury law firm about your legal options. Compensation from a birth injury lawsuit could help your baby have a better, more productive and safer life.  

Relief may be available for costs related to:

  • Comprehensive care 
  • Family counseling and support
  • Financial advising
  • In-home assistance
  • Lost wages
  • Marriage counseling
  • Wheelchair accessible vehicles

HIE doesn’t only hurt the infant. Often, parents and familial caregivers endure unimaginable stress and hardships to offer their child the best life possible. Compensation can also reduce the pressure endured by the parents and other caregivers, allowing them to enjoy a more balanced life while receiving the support they need.


Speak With a Birth Injury Lawyer Today

Birth injuries like hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy are complicated. They require an experienced birth injury lawyer with a track record of success in HIE cases. The birth injury legal team at D’Amore Personal Injury Law is here for you. We understand that HIE cases are traumatic for everyone involved. We are here to help you and your entire family get to a better life. 

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