Hypoxic-ischemic Encephalopathy

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Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a serious birth injury resulting from a lack of oxygen (hypoxia) and reduced blood flow (ischemia) to the baby’s brain around the time of birth.

Causes of Hypoxic-ischemic Encephalopathy

Some of the reasons hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy may occur include:

Prolonged Labor

During labor, the baby must pass through the birth canal, which can sometimes be delayed or obstructed. This prolonged labor can stress the baby, reducing the efficiency of oxygen delivery through the umbilical cord. The stress from contractions during an extended labor can also compromise the baby’s oxygen supply, potentially leading to HIE if the brain is deprived of oxygen for too long.

Umbilical Cord Problems

The umbilical cord is the baby’s lifeline, providing oxygen and nutrients from the placenta. Problems with the umbilical cord, such as prolapse (when the cord slips into the birth canal ahead of the baby), true knots, or compression, can significantly reduce or cut off the baby’s oxygen supply. These events are critical emergencies that require immediate medical intervention to prevent brain damage.

Placental Abruption

Placental abruption occurs when the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before the baby is born. This separation can be partial or complete, and it disrupts the baby’s oxygen and nutrient supply. The severity of the impact on the baby depends on the degree of separation and the stage of pregnancy. Placental abruption is a severe obstetric complication that can lead to HIE if not promptly and effectively managed.

Maternal Health Issues

The mother’s health significantly impacts the baby’s well-being before and during childbirth. Conditions like preeclampsia (characterized by high blood pressure and signs of damage to another organ system), diabetes, or cardiovascular diseases can affect the placental function. These conditions can lead to poor blood flow to the placenta, reducing the oxygen and nutrients available to the baby. Management of these maternal conditions during pregnancy is crucial to minimize risks of HIE and other complications.


Symptoms of HIE typically show signs of diminished neurological function from birth. These may include:

  • Poor Muscle Tone: Babies with HIE often have floppy or weak muscle tone instead of the expected firmness. This can indicate neurological impairment due to lack of oxygen.
  • Difficulty Breathing: Respiratory distress may occur because the brain areas controlling breathing may be affected by oxygen deprivation.
  • Lack of Response to Stimulation: A baby experiencing HIE might not respond normally to touch or sound, a sign of diminished neurological function.
  • Abnormal Heart Rate: An unusually slow or fast heart rate can be a sign of distress and is often one of the first indications of a problem during delivery.
  • Seizures: Seizures are a critical and common symptom of HIE and usually occur within the first 24 to 48 hours after birth. They are caused by disrupted electrical activity in the brain due to damage from insufficient oxygen.

Contact Us Today

If your baby experienced hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy that could have been prevented, get in touch with Gray and White today. Call (502) 210-8942 or fill out our online form to request a free, no-obligation consultation with one of our experienced attorneys