What Impact Does Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy, or Oxygen Deprivation, Have on a Newborn Baby?

What is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, commonly referred to as oxygen deprivation, is a brain injury specifically caused by the lack of oxygen going to the newborn’s brain. This condition is also known as intrapartum asphyxia, and it can lead to short and long-term impacts on the baby.

What Causes Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?

Several factors can lead to oxygen deprivation for a baby. Most of these factors occur during childbirth. Some of the causes for oxygen deprivation during delivery are:

  • Umbilical cord injuries
  • Prolapsed cord
  • Excess of pressure in newborn’s head
  • Impaired or decreased blood flow in the baby
  • Hemorrhage
  • Stress of labor and delivery
  • Medical malpractice or negligence

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy can also develop internally during pregnancy, mostly due to environmental factors or existing conditions with the mother. Some of these causes are:

  • Maternal high or low blood pressure
  • Maternal blood clotting
  • Cardiac issues
  • Infections such as pelvic inflammatory disease
  • Consumption of drugs and alcohol
What are the Short-Term Effects of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy on the Baby?

The effects of oxygen deprivation on a baby may not manifest immediately or may manifest at a different rate depending on the severity of the injury and the affected areas of the brain. Some of the short-term effects of the injury on the baby are:

  • Irregular heart rate
  • Seizures, particularly within the first day of life
  • Apnea, where the baby holds breath for a long time
  • Delayed or absent reflexes
  • Pale skin color
  • Weak muscle tone
  • Difficulty eating or nursing

These signs can assist the diagnosis by medical professionals to determine if an infant suffers from hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, thus encouraging additional tests, observations, and treatments. Additionally, doctors can diagnose oxygen deprivation from low umbilical cord pH, an indication of an excess of acid and a lack of oxygen.

What are the Long-Term Effects of Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy on the Baby?

The long-term effects of oxygen deprivation appear over time and range between mild, moderate, and severe. The long-lasting and permanent conditions created by hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy include, but are not limited to:

  • Cerebral palsy. The most common condition from oxygen deprivation, which impairs motor control or function.
  • Fetal stroke
  • Language disorders and delays
  • Behavioral issues
  • Constant pain
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Intracranial hemorrhages
  • Orthopedic conditions
  • Epilepsy and seizures

These effects are not curable, but there are several treatments, therapies, and support systems that can ease the symptoms and immediate effects of the conditions.

What are the Treatment Options?

The treatment of conditions and symptoms created by hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy vary. One of the common and most effective treatments is therapeutic hypothermia, also known as cooling. Health care personnel apply the cooling treatment within six hours after oxygen deprivation; treatment lasts up to three days. Personnel apply the treatment directly to the head via a cooling cap or throughout the entire body.

Other therapy options depend on the child’s affected or impaired functions. Some of these treatments alleviate pain or encourage activity. The following are specialized therapies for oxygen deprivation patients:

  • Physical
  • Occupational
  • Speech and language
  • Behavioral and emotional
  • Massage
  • Recreational

Children who specifically have cerebral palsy also require additional surgical and medication treatments, such as selective dorsal rhizotomies, orthopedic surgeries, and Neurontin.

How is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy Prevented?

While oxygen deprivation is not entirely avoidable, the mother and the specialists can take certain precautions to reduce the chances of developing hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. The mother can avoid alcohol consumption and talk to her medical provider about existing conditions and the possibility of infection. Qualified medical practitioners should pay close attention to fetal monitoring, use labor tools properly, and communicate with the mother and other practitioners if birth complications arise.