What Causes Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy in Newborns?

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is brain damage that develops in newborns. It is most commonly caused by oxygen deprivation and restricted blood flow to the brain during labor and delivery. Most commonly classified as a birth injury, HIE is a broad diagnosis that refers to harm that a baby experiences before, at, or shortly after the time of birth.

Long-Lasting Complications

While there are some cases where therapeutic hypothermia can prevent and minimize existing brain damage, it must be administered in the hours after the baby’s birth to be effective. Even with this therapy, many infants who suffer birth injuries due to HIE will develop permanent disorders and health problems.


Some of these common complications include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Epilepsy
  • Developmental delays
  • Hearing loss
  • Vision impairment
  • Motor function and speech difficulties

The extent of a birth injury might not be immediately apparent. Brain injury is a constantly evolving process, as chain reactions set up in the brain after oxygen deprivation and low blood flow cause other cells to die over time, resulting in additional complications.

If you suspect that your child exhibits symptoms of HIE, look for developmental milestones and report to a doctor or caregiver if common occurrences such as crawling, walking, and speech formation are not taking place.

Smith-Alsobrook & Associates

If you suspect your baby has sustained HIE or a brain injury due to medical negligence, it may be time to procure legal help. A professional HIE lawyer is trained to handle all aspects of representation for you and your baby against your medical care team.

Common Causes of HIE

HIE can be caused by several factors around the time of birth. In many cases, medical negligence and malpractice play a part in creating conditions that cause HIE. The following conditions are all known to contribute to its development:

Mismanaged Pregnancy

Women with gestational diabetes, preeclampsia, and other pre-existing conditions may require more care than the average pregnancy. If any of these conditions are overlooked or mismanaged, the result could be catastrophic for both mother and child.

Umbilical Cord Complications

The umbilical cord functions as an essential lifeline between mother and baby, supplying vital nutrients and oxygen to the child and eliminating waste as needed. If the umbilical cord is not allowed unrestricted function and flow of fluids between mother and child, serious complications can develop, such as:

  • Placental abruption
  • Placenta Previa
  • Placental insufficiency
  • Uterine rupture

These can all be life-threatening conditions that cut off oxygen and blood supply to the baby, increasing the risk for the development of HIE and other traumatic birth injuries.


Infections experienced by the mother can quickly spread to a child during labor and delivery. The infection is more likely to spread if the medical team managing delivery does not take proper precautions for infection management and fluid control.

Signs and Symptoms of HIE

Babies who develop hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy may begin to show the following signs and symptoms that require immediate care and intervention:

  • Feeding problems
  • Breathing or respiratory distress
  • Missing reflexes
  • Low Apgar scores
  • Seizures
  • Low muscle tone
  • Altered states of consciousness
  • Developmental delay
  • Non-responsiveness to stimuli

Treatment for HIE, if suspected, should be administered as soon as possible after birth to minimize and prevent additional brain injury and damage from occurring. Therapeutic hypothermia is a controlled cooling of the baby’s body and brain to temperatures below normal, preventing further injury.

Studies have shown that, when administered correctly, this type of therapy can do wonders in restoring proper blood flow and vital oxygen to the brain, thereby promoting the body’s innate sense of healing.

Seek Legal Guidance

You deserve to know that your baby is protected against further harm and that you are getting the medical care you need and deserve. Contact a medical malpractice lawyer today to see how they can help you protect your precious child and receive compensation that can support their ongoing health and wellness.

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