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Hypoxic Brain Injury

What Is Hypoxic Brain Injury?

The brain needs oxygen to function and thrive. When the supply of oxygen is interrupted and the brain does not receive enough oxygen, brain cells begin to die in as little as five minutes. Long-term brain damage can result, leading to delayed development, blindness, seizures and/or cerebral palsy. Hypoxic brain injury can be fatal.

Hypoxic brain injury may be the result of medical malpractice and is most common after a prolonged or difficult delivery. There are times when things go wrong during pregnancy and childbirth that simply cannot be avoided. But, when a medical mistake or negligence leads to oxygen deprivation or perinatal asphyxia and causes preventable, permanent brain injury, you may have a legal claim.

Brain Damage Caused By A Lack Of Oxygen During Childbirth

If your child required resuscitation after birth, it is possible that he or she suffered a brain injury during delivery. Infant brain injuries are characterized by the oxygen deprivation experienced by the baby:

  • Anoxic – oxygen flow is completely cut off and no oxygen reaches the brain
  • Hypoxic –oxygen flow is decreased, falling below the level needed to sustain healthy brain cells
  • Ischemic – blood flow is decreased, falling below the level needed to sustain health cells or organs

Decreased blood flow to the placenta may cause decreased oxygen flow to an unborn child; an increase in demand for oxygen by the mother or the baby can also lead to brain injury caused by a lack of needed oxygen. Any number of labor and delivery complications can deprive an infant of oxygen, including:

Before delivery:

  • Severe pre-eclampsia
  • Placental abruption
  • Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)
  • Hemorrhage

During delivery:

  • Breech birth
  • Umbilical cord prolapsed
  • Emergency C-section
  • Induction of labor
  • Maternal fever

There have been successes in minimizing damage caused by a lack of oxygen at birth by cooling the brain. This may be called hypothermia therapy or other similar name and is most effective if begun within three to four hours of delivery.

What Is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy?

About two of every 1,000 babies are born with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). The serious infant brain injury typically affects babies who were carried to term more often than preemies. HIE may be mild, moderate or severe.

Decreased cerebral blood flow is characteristic of HIE, as is an APGAR score between 0-3 for more than five minutes after birth. Infant seizures are most commonly caused by HIE and may be treated with Phenobarbital or Phenytoin.

HIE often involves multiple organs, in addition to the brain. It may result in cerebral palsy or severe mental deficiencies. HIE is the leading cause of serious impairment in infants; in up to half of all cases, HIE will result in infant death.

If Your Baby Was Deprived Of Oxygen, You May Have Options

Preventing hypoxic brain injury is as simple as preventing asphyxia or oxygen deprivation during labor and delivery. This starts with adequate monitoring of your baby's vital signs, including his or her fetal heart rate, during labor and delivery to recognize signs of distress and react appropriately and in a timely manner.

It may be difficult to know what caused your newborn to suffer a brain injury during birth.

That is where The Birth Injury Team comes in. We are here to sort through the facts and determine what went wrong, causing serious or fatal injuries to your child. The Birth Injury Team is a subsidiary of Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., made up of experienced attorneys and medical professionals. Our lawyers have more than 100 years of combined experience handling birth injury cases. We are dedicated to helping parents understand their child's condition and guiding them through the process of securing the care and support they need. Located in Philadelphia, we serve clients across the United States.


Located in Philadelphia, Silvers, Langsam & Weitzman, P.C., home of MyPhillyLawyer, serves clients in Philadelphia County, Pennsylvania, and throughout the United States.

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