Is HIE The Same As Cerebral Palsy?


How To Get Your Free Initial Consultation

To start an evaluation of your case, please complete the form below. The more information you can provide, the better able we will be to determine if we can help you.

We will review the information and let you know by email shortly if we may be able to handle your matter and what the next steps may be.

*This web site is designed for general information only. The information presented at this site should not be construed to be formal legal advice nor the formation of a lawyer/client relationship.

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a brain injury that can cause cerebral palsy (CP), though they don’t always occur together. Damage to the brain due to HIE can manifest in different ways, including hearing, vision, motor, and cognitive impairments. Cerebral palsy may develop in children who suffer from HIE, which impacts the parts of the brain responsible for motor control.

What Is The Link Between HIE And Cerebral Palsy?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy happens when there is a lack of oxygen in a baby’s brain. Another term for lack of oxygen is asphyxia. This lack of oxygen can occur before, during labor and delivery, or even after birth.

Critical cells, including brain cells, must have oxygen to survive. If the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen, damage occurs as cell death begins. The damage (HIE) can lead to physical and mental disabilities in the child, including developing cerebral palsy. The severity of the damage depends on how low and how long the baby was without proper oxygen levels as well as the baby’s overall health before the lack of oxygen. Typically, the longer a baby is without proper oxygen levels, the more severe the permanent damage will be. However, some babies can tolerate low oxygen levels better than others.

Various situations can cause HIE and can lead to numerous health problems. The direct cause, of course, is a low supply of oxygen relative to how much oxygen the baby needs. This mismatch can be caused by low oxygen levels within the blood and/or reduced blood flow. What causes asphyxia is more complex. It may include one or more of the following causes:

  • Labor and delivery distress
  • Prolonged labor
  • Low blood pressure (mother)
  • Low Oxygen in maternal blood from conditions such as asthma or sickle cell  (mother)
  • Diabetes (mother)
  • High blood pressure, or preeclampsia
  • Placental abruption
  • Uterine or vasa previa rupture
  • Umbilical cord problems, including prolapsed cord
  • Abnormal presentation of the baby
  • Heart problems
  • Intrapartum hemorrhage
  • Congenital brain defects
  • Interrupted breathing
  • Abnormal lung formation
  • Trauma to the baby’s skull or brain

Not all HIE causes injury but when it does, it can be associated with physical, developmental, and cognitive impairments, including learning disabilities, developmental delays, and seizures. The course of HIE is variable and the consequences may not be apparent at birth. This is why it is important for your doctors to follow your baby if there is concern that the baby suffered a lack of oxygen before, during, or after birth.

HIE is a type of brain dysfunction that can but does not always result in motor dysfunction. However, motor dysfunction is a component of cerebral palsy. Whether HIE causes cerebral palsy depends on which part of the brain suffers damage. Similar to HIE, there are many possible causes for cerebral palsy. HIE is simply one potential mechanism.

Can Medical Malpractice Cause HIE?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy can happen even when no one does anything wrong. However, in some cases, HIE could have been prevented, and the condition occurred due to the negligence or error of a medical provider or the failure of a system to appropriately address a medical concern.

Medical negligence prenatally, during labor and delivery, or after birth, can increase the risk of HIE.  Proper prenatal care reduces the likelihood of asphyxia happening during pregnancy. This is especially important for pregnancies that are determined to be high-risk.

Decisions made during delivery that are below the standard of care can also result in HIE. These include improper treatment of the maternal fever and infection as well as improper response to problems that can arise such as abnormal fetal heart rate tracing or bleeding or umbilical cord complications or uterine rupture. Improper treatment or delayed delivery in these settings can lead to preventable injury. Improper use of delivery instruments such as forceps and vacuum can also increase the risk of HIE.

Medical professionals, including nurses, doctors, technicians, and others, must always follow the appropriate standard of care. When they fail to do what a reasonably competent medical professional in their position would do, and as a result, a patient is injured, it may be considered a case of medical malpractice.

Proving that medical malpractice caused HIE or cerebral palsy is a complicated area of the law. It requires an experienced birth injury lawyer working with top-notch medical experts to review the case carefully to see if there is evidence of medical negligence. 

Contact Pennsylvania HIE Attorneys At Ross Feller Casey For Help

If your child has been diagnosed with HIE and/or cerebral palsy and you believe that the injury was due to medical negligence, we are here to help you.

At Ross Feller Casey in Philadelphia, we are committed to providing every client with the best legal representation possible. Our law firm is nationally recognized for its outstanding results in medical malpractice and other personal injury cases. We have a team of top medical doctors right on staff to assist our knowledgeable attorneys in determining if your child’s injuries were preventable. Let us help you and your family ease the financial burden of your child’s injuries.

Contact Ross Feller Casey today to set up your free consultation with an experienced birth injury lawyer. There is no cost to you until we win a financial recovery for your family.

About the Author

J.P. Faunes joined Ross Feller Casey in 2023 and represents clients who suffered severe injuries due to medical malpractice, defective products, and dangerous construction operations.

J.P. Faunes

Disclaimer: Ross Feller Casey, LLP provides legal advice only after an attorney-client relationship is formed. Our website is an introduction to the firm and does not create a relationship between our attorneys and clients. An attorney-client relationship is formed only after a written agreement is signed by the client and the firm. Because every case is unique, the description of awards and summary of cases successfully handled are not intended to imply or guarantee that same success in other cases. Ross Feller Casey, LLP represents catastrophically injured persons and their families in injury and wrongful death cases, providing legal representation in Pennsylvania and New Jersey.