What You Need to Know about an HIE Diagnosis


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If your baby has been diagnosed with hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, you probably have a lot of questions. HIE is a complex birth injury that can have devastating effects on your baby, and unfortunately, it is often the result of negligent care. Improper care during pregnancy, birth, or immediately following birth is the most common denominator when it comes to instances of HIE. It is during these critical periods that doctors have to be vigilant to ensure adequate blood and oxygen are getting to the baby’s brain. When they do not, the results can be deadly.

What is Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)?

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy is a neonatal brain injury caused by oxygen deprivation and decreased blood flow to the baby’s brain around the time of birth. This lack of oxygen and blood to the brain causes brain cells to die, resulting in eventual brain damage. Potential complications of HIE range from cognitive and developmental impairments to death.

Other commonly used terms for HIE include:

  • Oxygen Deprivation at Birth
  • Perinatal Asphyxia
  • Fetal Oxygen Deprivation
  • Birth Asphyxia

What are Symptoms of HIE?

Symptoms of HIE are highly variable from baby to baby. In any case, it is essential that a physician be aware of the many signs and symptoms to look for in order to decrease the baby’s risk of brain damage. The signs and symptoms differ depending on what stage the infant is in.

Before birth the doctor should monitor for the following signs, which may indicate HIE:

  • Decreased fetal movement
  • Severe maternal cramping
  • Abnormal fetal heart rate
  • Vaginal bleeding
  • Abnormal maternal weight gain
  • Maternal high blood pressure

If any of the above occur during pregnancy, it is important that the doctor proceed promptly to assess the baby and determine the appropriate next steps.

During birth it is crucial that the physician works quickly to minimize the damage done by HIE. The following are signs of HIE during birth:

  • Seizures
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Resuscitation required at birth / Severe breathing problems
  • Hypotonia
  • Organ problems
  • Abnormal response to light
  • Weak or absent cry

Sometimes signs and symptoms of HIE are not present until after birth. This is especially true of infants who only experienced mild HIE. In these instances symptoms might include:

  • Impaired motor function
  • Delayed developmental growth
  • Seizure disorder
  • Hearing and visual impairments

How is HIE Diagnosed?

Diagnosing your baby’s HIE is the most important step in the process, as a quick diagnosis is key for a more favorable outcome. Unfortunately, all too often physicians incorrectly diagnose, or fail to diagnose the condition altogether. There are several different ways to diagnose HIE depending on what stage the mother is at in her pregnancy.

  • Before birth: Before birth diagnostics include ultrasounds, prenatal blood tests, and heart monitoring for the fetus.
  • During and immediately after birth: During and immediately after birth diagnostics include CT scans, MRI, EEG, umbilical cord blood tests, and APGAR testing.
  • Infancy and early childhood: During infancy and early childhood diagnostics include, but are not limited to, a wide range of tests for certain developmental delays at milestone ages.

Is HIE Curable?

Unfortunately, there is no complete cure for HIE. There is only treatment to help reduce the amount of permanent neurological damage. Currently, the most effective treatment is called hypothermia therapy, or, cooling therapy. Hypothermia therapy consists of lowering the baby’s body temperature for a period of three days in order to allow the damaged cells to repair themselves. When the therapy is administered within six hours of an occurrence of HIE, it has been proven to drastically reduce its negative effects. Other treatments include supportive care for associated neurological conditions, such as seizures, cerebral palsy, or developmental conditions. As with most conditions, it is important that treatment begin as soon as possible in order to maximize effectiveness.

Who is Responsible for HIE?

Birth injuries due to hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy can be the result of numerous factors, at numerous points during a pregnancy. Some of the most common of which include a delayed response, or failure to diagnose. In some cases, the symptoms may not even develop until years after birth. As such, it can be incredibly difficult to determine who is at fault for your baby’s HIE without the help of a team of medical and legal professionals.

The damages from HIE can often be lifelong, and require long-term therapy, medication, and other various treatments for your child. If you believe your doctor was negligent at any point of your pregnancy or birth, and that your baby suffered from HIE as a result, we highly recommend that you contact an experienced birth injury attorney right away. 

We Can Help

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy cases require extensive knowledge of both law and medicine. In order for you to get the best possible outcome for your child it is important that you get in contact with an experienced birth injury firm. Ross Feller Casey is among the nation’s top law firms handling birth injury cases, including those involving HIE. At Ross Feller Casey, our seasoned attorneys and medical team work seamlessly together to ensure you get the compensation you deserve. Contact us for your free consultation today.

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.