If you are like most parents, you had never heard of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) until your child was diagnosed with it. Sometimes referred to as perinatal asphyxia, it refers to a brain injury where the supply of blood and therefore oxygen to a newborn’s brain is halted temporarily during the process of childbirth. It can lead to a host of health problems, both physical and mental, as your child develops.
Your child’s HIE may be mild, severe, or somewhere in between. It is normal to be extremely frustrated and upset by an HIE diagnosis—and it makes complete sense to wonder what went wrong that led to your child’s injury. You may have already considered the possibility that your child’s doctor made a mistake that caused the HIE. Or, you may have not wanted to think about such an upsetting idea.
If your child’s injury was caused by medical malpractice, it is important to get to the truth of what happened. Not only does proving medical malpractice increase the odds that you can get much-needed financial support to take care of your child from your doctor’s insurer, but it also allows you to hold those responsible for the injury accountable.
What is HIE?
There are numerous conditions that can cause damage to the brain. The term encephalopathy is used to refer to these various conditions and diseases. The term HIE gets more specific about what caused the brain injury. It refers to a certain combination of factors, including ischemia, a lessening of blood flow to the brain, and hypoxia, a lessening of the standard supply of oxygen to the brain.
When a baby is impacted by HIE during or right after birth, it is referred to as perinatal. The loss of oxygen and blood flow happened sometime during the birthing process—which is why doctors and or medical center staff are sometimes found to have committed malpractice if they did or failed to do something that led to the condition.
HIE is considered one of the most significant causes of death for newborns. The damage caused by the condition is often significant, which is why babies that suffer from HIE do not live past a few days in around 15 to 20 percent of cases. While only about 3 of every 1,000 births results in HIE, the dangers presented by the condition are so significant that it remains a major cause of death during childbirth.
How Do You Know Your Baby Has HIE?
If your child has moderate to severe HIE, the medical team delivering the child and/or the medical team taking care of the child following delivery is almost certain to notice that something is wrong and engage in treatment immediately. However, there is the possibility that HIE could be mild enough that they do not notice it. There is no substitute for a diagnosis from a certified physician, but if you are questioning whether your baby has HIE, it can be helpful to see a list of symptoms. Common symptoms of mild HIE include:
- Unusual tendon reflexes in the first days following birth, possibly including stiffened muscles
- Irritability with no obvious cause
- Excessive sleeping
- Excessive crying
- Trouble feeding
- Other abnormal behavior
- Note—The symptoms of mild HIE will often disappear after a few days
How Do You Know it Was Caused by Medical Malpractice?
If your child has moderate to severe HIE, the symptoms could last a long time or be with your child for life. You will likely get a diagnosis of HIE from your doctor if the symptoms are significant enough. But just because your child has HIE does not guarantee it was caused by medical malpractice.
It is worth stating that many cases of HIE are the result of mistakes made by medical teams and doctors. Medical professionals delivering babies know the importance of maintaining oxygen and blood flow to the brain. If they fail to ensure proper care, they likely failed to do something they should have done or did something wrong.
Determining if the HIE was caused by malpractice often requires hiring a medical malpractice attorney to conduct an investigation. If the attorney finds that malpractice occurred, they can help you determine if you want to pursue legal action.
- Perinatal Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy
- A systematic review of the role of intrapartum hypoxia-ischemia in the causation of neonatal encephalopathy.
- UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital – Neonatal Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy