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Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy


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The diagnosis of HIE is made based on the clinical characteristics of the newborn immediately after birth and brain imaging studies demonstrating a brain injury pattern caused by lack of oxygen (hypoxia) and lack of blood flow (ischemia). Newborns who suffer HIE during labor and delivery are born severely depressed. They have low apgar scores, they are limp, pale and often require resuscitation, including chest compressions and assistance with breathing. Fetal heart rate abnormalities consistent with fetal hypoxia and metabolic acidosis are always present on the electronic fetal monitor when the fetus is exposed to damaging degrees of hypoxia and ischemia.

Every second counts

The length of time the baby was deprived of oxygen matters because it sets the stage for survival with adverse effects and survival without adverse effects. Fetal death occurs 25 minutes without oxygen. In that case the delivery should be done within five minutes and no longer than 15 minutes. For the baby to survive with the best outcomes, C-sections should be done within 10-18 minutes.

The longer a fetus is exposed to severe hypoxia and ischemia during labor and delivery, the greater the likelihood that brain damage will occur. Animal and human studies have provided extraordinary insight into the relation of hypoxic ischemic insults to abnormalities of fetal heart rate and metabolism and to the resulting brain damage. With total asphyxia, that is, complete cessation of blood flow, brain injury can occur within 18 minutes. Fetal death can occur in the setting of total asphyxia for greater than 25 minutes. Accordingly, when the electronic fetal monitor shows fetal heart rate abnormalities consistent with severe hypoxia, asphyxia and acidosis, delivery of the baby should occur as fast as safely possible.

HIE (hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy)

is a term used to describe brain damage that occurs near the time of birth caused by lack of oxygen and blood flow to the fetal brain. The clinical characteristics of HIE include various combinations of fetal disturbance near or during labor and delivery (fetal heart rate abnormalities, sentinel events like uterine rupture or umbilical cord prolapse), umbilical cord arterial blood gas values indicative of metabolic acidosis, depressed apgar scores and a neonatal neurological syndrome.

HIE also includes the presence of brain injury consistent with clearly defined hypoxic ischemic insults. Newborns who are diagnosed with HIE are often described as having suffered perinatal asphyxia, intrapartum asphyxia or birth asphyxia. HIE often leads to cerebral palsy, developmental delays, cognitive impairment and other long term physical and mental disability.

Causes of Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE) and Birth Asphyxia

HIE can be caused by uterine, placental and umbilical cord complications during labor and delivery.

Uterine Complications:

Excessive uterine activity (tachysystole) can result in fetal hypoxia and ischemia during labor. During uterine contractions blood flow to the fetus is dramatically reduced resulting in transient fetal hypoxia. If uterine contractions are too close together, the fetus does not have the chance to recover adequate oxygenation from the placenta and can become hypoxic. When a fetus is exposed to excessive uterine activity for prolonged periods of time, the fetal heart rate can drop dangerously low, resulting in fetal ischemia. Uterine rupture can also cause HIE. Women who have had a previous cesarean section are at an increased risk for uterine rupture during a trial of labor.

Placental Complications:

Placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the uterine wall. This results in severe and acute hypoxia and ischemia and can lead to brain damage if the fetus is not delivered emergently. Abnormalities of the attachment of the placenta to the uterine wall (placenta previa) can also cause HIE.

Umbilical Cord Complications:

Umbilical cord complications that interfere with the transfer of blood and oxygen to the fetus can also cause HIE. These complications include the cord being wrapped around the fetal neck, cord compression and umbilical cord prolapse.

Medical Negligence

The electronic fetal heart rate monitor will always show abnormalities of the fetal heart rate caused by hypoxia, ischemia and acidosis. The failure of the medical team (nurses, nurse midwives and obstetricians) to recognize these abnormalities and perform interventions to alleviate them or emergent delivery constitutes medical negligence.

HIE Treatment

Hypothermia therapy (brain cooling) is a relatively new treatment used to improve outcomes for HIE. The goal is to reduce the severity of the neurologic injury by minimizing brain swelling. Other treatments include endotracheal intubation and ventilation, seizure control and maintaining adequate blood pressure. Neonatal Intensive Care Unit admission is almost always required for the treatment of HIE.

How Does Hypothermia (Brain Cooling) Work?

During hypothermia the baby’s body temperature is dropped to approximately 91 degrees Fahrenheit for 72 hours. This helps slow the metabolic rate, allowing cells to recover over a longer period of time. This helps prevent further brain damage from occurring.

HIE Is Preventable

During labor, when a baby is being monitored with an electronic fetal heart rate monitor (EFM) and is being exposed to hypoxia, ischemia or acidosis, the EFM will always show abnormalities in the fetal heart rate, including minimal or absent fetal heart rate variability, late fetal heart rate decelerations, prolonged fetal heart rate decelerations, fetal heart rate tachycardia or bradycardia. When these fetal heart rate abnormalities occur, and especially in the setting of excessive uterine activity, it is essential that the obstetric personnel undertake interventions to treat the causes of fetal hypoxia, ischemia and acidosis in a timely fashion and if they cannot be eliminated, to deliver the fetus as fast as safely possible.

My Baby Was Diagnosed With HIE

If you suspect your baby’s HIE was preventable and was caused by medical negligence, be proactive about seeking legal counsel. The attorney you choose to represent your child should have extensive experience and success in representing babies who suffer the catastrophic consequences of HIE.

Malpractice Alert

Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy

If HIE is diagnosed, hypothermia treatment should be offered as this is a time critical issue, as long as all indications for the treatment are met. Failure to provide hypothermia treatment to an eligible baby in immediate need qualifies for malpractice.

Can HIE be prevented?

Two things matter the most:

  1. Constant monitoring: Observing the mother and baby at regular intervals is crucial, so distress is immediately detected and acted upon.
  2. Timely delivery: Once any abnormal signs are detected, delivering the baby is mission critical, especially in case of high-risk pregnancies.

Other proactive factors to consider:

  • Regular prenatal testing to check fetal health.
  • High-risk pregnancies should be managed by specialists.
  • Fetal heart rate should be monitored the minute the mother is admitted for delivery so the labor and delivery team can be immediately alerted.
  • Any uterine or placental complications should be detected and a C-section delivery should be conducted immediately. Failure to do so accounts for medical negligence.

The important thing to know about HIE is that it is preventable.

If you suspect your baby’s HIE was preventable and was caused due to medical negligence, be proactive about seeking legal counsel.


There are a few factors to consider –

  • Baby’s condition before oxygen deprivation.
  • The severity of oxygen deficit.
  • The length of time the baby was deprived of oxygen.
  • Medical management and care after.

Legal point of view Below are some essential factors to consider:

  1. One thing that separates our practice from the rest is we work around your schedule and not the other way round.
  2. Being proactive about deadlines, filing the case well within the statue of limitations goes a long way.
  3. We consult with medical and financial experts to ensure you have all the information for your case.
  4. Ensuring a settlement that will factor in care required throughout the child’s lifetime.
  5. Understanding the intricacies of a trust fund to ensure your child is covered, as the settlement cannot be directly delivered to the child’s account.
  6. With our specialized focus on birth injury, you can depend on our excellence and expertise when it comes to navigating through the intricacies of the case every step of the way.

Get The Money You Need to Give Your Child The Resources He Or She Needs

If your child has been diagnosed with cerebral palsy, early intervention is critical. Enrolling your child in occupational therapy, physical therapy and speech therapy can help him or her maximize abilities. Talking to a lawyer is also a good idea if you need to ensure that your child’s cerebral palsy was not caused by medical negligence. We invite you to call our Rocky River offices at 440-331-6100 or contact us now to schedule an appointment with an Ohio spasticity lawyer. The Lancione Law Firm is proud to serve clients in Cincinnati, Columbus, Toledo, Akron, Youngstown and other communities throughout Ohio with the knowledge and experience of a well-qualified Cleveland cerebral palsy diagnosis attorney.

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