What's the relationship between hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and cerebral palsy?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) can cause cerebral palsy (CP), though the two do not always appear together. Brain damage from HIE can manifest in several different ways, including cognitive impairments, vision and hearing issues, and motor difficulties. Cerebral palsy is a disorder that is characterized by a lack of motor function; it may arise in children whose HIE has affected regions of their brain responsible for motor control. 


What is HIE?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a dangerous brain injury caused by a lack of oxygen in an infant’s brain. The oxygen deprivation associated with HIE may be due to a lack of oxygen in the baby’s blood and/or decreased or restricted blood follow in the baby’s brain. Many people refer to HIE as birth asphyxia, intrapartum asphyxia, or neonatal encephalopathy (NE).

Oxygen is necessary to sustain critical cells within the body, most notably brain cells. When the brain does not receive proper oxygen, a cycle of injury starts to occur in the brain and cell death begins. This damage to brain tissue—HIE—can result in mental and physical disabilities in the child, including cerebral palsy. The extent of the damage depends on the length of time that the baby was deprived of oxygen, the severity of the oxygen deprivation, and the condition of the baby prior to the oxygen-depriving event. Generally speaking, the longer a baby goes without oxygen or with decreased oxygen, the more severe and permanent the injury will be.

HIE can be caused by numerous events, and can in turn cause numerous health issues

HIE can be caused by many different events, conditions, and medical errors, as detailed here. It can also cause a host of physical and cognitive impairments, such as developmental delays, learning disabilities, and seizures. 

Cerebral palsy is motor dysfunction caused by brain damage; HIE is a form of brain damage that can kill the neurons that transfer motor signals

Cerebral palsy is a disorder that manifests itself in motor difficulties, including muscle spasms (in some cases) and coordination difficulties. HIE can cause the brain damage that leads to cerebral palsy.

Normally, connections in the brain allow neurons to send signals to the muscles at a particular rate, allowing a person to move in a controlled fashion. In people with cerebral palsy, this signaling pathway is damaged, resulting in either hypertonia (rigid, tight muscles) or hypotonia (very low muscle tone), and sometimes muscle spasms that can require antispastic medication to control. Whether or not HIE causes cerebral palsy depends on which part of the brain is injured.

How do hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy and cerebral palsy relate to medical malpractice?

Patients entrust medical staff with their healthcare under the assumption that the staff will do no harm. However, mistakes during pregnancy, birth, and and the neonatal period can cause oxygen deprivation in a baby, especially in cases where staff mismanage high-risk pregnancies and delivery procedures. Because physicians are expected to meet high standards of care, they should be held accountable when their actions result in a child being permanently injured.

If your child was hurt by a medical error that resulted in their cerebral palsy, you can ensure they get the resources they need throughout their life. Contact us as you prefer via, phone, email, or live chat.

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The Relationship Between HIE and Cerebral Palsy

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