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Understanding hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy is a dangerous birthing issue that can affect a child for the rest of his or her life. Information from the Florida Neonatal Neurologic Network has found that HIE occurs in between every three and 20 births out of every 1,000. 

HIE occurs due to a deprivation of oxygen to the infant's brain. Brain cells sustain immense injuries, and while some infants can recover, others do not. There are various ways HIE can occur, including preeclampsia, maternal diabetes combined with a vascular disease, extreme fetal anemia and lung abnormalities. It is critical for both parents and doctors to remain aware of this possibility to take proper preventive actions. 


Doctors can perform MRI and CT scans to determine if an infant suffers from HIE. The presence of any of the following symptoms also indicate the disease has occurred: 

  • Excessive acid in the infant's blood
  • Pale or bluish skin color
  • Weak or no breathing patterns
  • Weak muscle tone
  • Low heart rate
  • Meconium-stained amniotic fluid
  • Apgar score less than three
  • Depressed or absent reflexes


An infant can experience mild, moderate or extreme symptoms, and while some children will not require much in terms of medical treatment, other children will require lifelong care. HIE can ultimately lead to cognitive issues, neurodevelopmental delays, epilepsy and motor skill development delays. However, neither doctors nor parents will know the full effect until the child is about three or four years old. 


There are various ways doctors can help children with HIE live happy lives. For example, a doctor may recommend the child utilize mechanical ventilation to breathe with assistance. Medications and general anesthesia are helpful for controlling seizures. Medical professionals are also able to cool the baby's body and brain to reverse the effects of brain hypoxia. Finally, treatments are available to help control blood pressure and maintain normal heart function. 

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