What are the long-term effects of brain hemorrhages?

Infant brain hemorrhages encompass a variety of conditions with differing degrees of risk. Certain types of hemorrhages are very small and may not have long-term effects. However, if a hemorrhage is severe and/or poorly managed, permanent damage can occur. Here, we discuss a common complication of infant brain hemorrhages: posthemorrhagic hydrocephalus (fluid build up in the brain). Hydrocephalus, in turn, has many potential long-term effects of its own.

Posthemorrhagic Hydrocephalus

Posthemorrhagic hydrocephalus (PHH), sometimes inaccurately called “water on the brain,” is a condition in which too much cerebrospinal fluid builds up in the cerebral ventricles and/or subarachnoid spaces as the result of a hemorrhage or hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). PHH can be detected through brain imaging before the obvious clinical signs, such as increasing head circumference, occur. It is important to catch PHH early, because as the ventricles continue to enlarge, they put pressure on nearby brain tissue, potentially causing permanent brain damage. PHH can be especially damaging to white matter in the brain. White matter is important because of its role in regulating electrical signaling between nervous system cells. It is responsible for sending information from the brain to the spinal cord and the rest of the body. Without enough white matter in their developing brains, children may lack control of their basic bodily functions (see periventricular leukomalacia). PHH can also negatively affect the cerebral cortex, which is crucial to memory, attention, thought, language, and consciousness. PHH and its ensuing complications can lead to a variety of issues, including:

  • Epilepsy: Patients who have received a surgical shunt to drain excess cerebrospinal fluid (this is a common treatment for hydrocephalus) may be more likely to experience seizures.
  • Cerebral palsy and other motor disorders. (The following symptoms can also be symptoms of cerebral palsy.)  
  • Cognitive impairment
  • Hearing impairment
  • Visual impairment
  • Speech pathologies

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), Trauma, and Brain Hemorrhages

The leading causes of infant brain hemorrhage are hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) and traumatic birth.  HIE decreases the amount of well-oxygenated blood in certain areas, sometimes causing brain damage and hemorrhage. Traumatic delivery from the use of forceps or vacuum extractors, or cases in which the baby gets stuck in the birth canal, can also cause injury to the head and brain and result in hemorrhage.

The information presented above is intended only to be a general educational resource. It is not intended to be (and should not be interpreted as) medical advice. If you have questions about infant brain hemorrhages or posthemorrhagic hydrocephalus, please consult with a medical professional.

Legal Help for Brain Hemorrhages from Medical Malpractice

ABCLawGroup 3878a 002 A number of medical mistakes and deviations from care standards can cause brain hemorrhages in babies. If you suspect that your loved one suffered a brain hemorrhage as the result of medical malpractice, we encourage you to reach out to the birth injury attorneys at Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers for a free case review. Our attorneys exclusively handle birth trauma cases and have specifically handled cases involving brain hemorrhages from medical malpractice. Please be aware that there is a limited period of time in which families can pursue birth injury cases—you may contact our legal team to determine if your loved one’s statute of limitations has expired. To start your free case review, you may contact us in the following ways:

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Related Resources


  1. Periventricular/Intraventricular Hemorrhage (PVH/IVH) in the Premature Infant
  2. Management and complications of intraventricular hemorrhage in the newborn
  3. Intraventricular hemorrhage in term neonates with hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy: a comparison study between neonates treated with and without hypothermia