Brain Bleeds In Newborn: Neonatal Subgaleal Hematoma

A subgaleal hematoma (SGH), also known as a subgaleal hemorrhage, is a serious neonatal bleeding complication that occurs when blood accumulates outside of the baby’s skull (extracranially). Subgaleal hematomas have the potential to drain a significant amount of blood from the newborn, putting the baby at risk for injuries including neonatal encephalopathy, seizures, or even death. Due to the high-risk nature of this condition, it is crucial that SGH be identified and treated promptly to avoid and/or limit damage to the baby.

Subgaleal Hematoma

Risk Factors for Subgaleal Hematoma

Certain attributes present during pregnancy may make a neonate more susceptible to subgaleal hemorrhaging. These risk factors must be taken into consideration as doctors make decisions regarding the pregnancy, labor, and delivery. Some of the most prominent risk factors for subgaleal hematoma in newborns are:


Causes of Subgaleal Hematoma

Subgaleal hemorrhages are caused by trauma to the head during labor and delivery. Most commonly, this trauma is caused by the pulling, dragging, or compressing of a baby’s head through the pelvis during delivery. In about 90% of cases, subgaleal hematomas come as a result of vacuum extractor misuse during delivery. Vacuum extractors can cause head trauma when the physician places the suction cup on the wrong part of the baby’s head, applies too much pressure or force, keeps the cup suctioned for an extended period of time, or makes too many attempts at using the vacuum extractor, called pop-offs. When vacuum extractors or other assistive tools like forceps are used improperly, they can cause bleeding within the subgaleal space (between the scalp and the skull).

Because of the associated risks, vacuum-assisted deliveries are often discouraged. To learn more about when it is appropriate to use vacuum extractors and other assistive tools during delivery, visit this page.

Signs of a Subgaleal Hematoma

Subgaleal bleeding poses a serious threat of blood loss for infants, so the rapid identification of the condition is necessary for proper treatment. Because of this great risk, infants who underwent a difficult or assisted delivery must be closely monitored. When treating these patients, physicians should:

  • Carefully monitor vital signs for symptoms of shock (elevated heart rate, decreased blood pressure, etc.)
  • Serially assess hematocrit levels
  • Test bilirubin levels
  • Pay close attention to pallor, tone, and respiratory distress

If physicians follow the above monitoring guidelines, they will be able to clearly identify infants suffering from a subgaleal hemorrhage. These infants may present with the following attributes:

  • Palpable swelling on the head, which may shift with movement and expand over time due to additional bleeding.
  • Tachycardia
  • Pallor
  • Decreasing blood pressure
  • Diminished tone
  • Respiratory distress

Treatment for Subgaleal Hematoma

Newborns diagnosed with subgaleal hematomas must be treated immediately in order to prevent any further damage. Treatment for a subgaleal hematoma is aimed at resolving the symptoms of blood loss and assuring that the infant returns to a stable condition. This often includes volume resuscitation and blood transfusions to correct ongoing bleeding. During volume resuscitation, liquids are restored to the infant in the form of packed red blood cells (to help restore the oxygen-carrying function of blood) and other blood products.

Once physicians make choices about transfusion, they must continue to monitor the patient. It is important to frequently assess bilirubin levels to make sure the patient is not suffering from hyperbilirubinemia. Additionally, physicians should administer blood studies to ensure that the newborn is not suffering from any type of coagulopathy (blood condition), as coagulopathies may be present alongside subgaleal bleeding. If coagulopathy is present, it should be treated according to the specific protocol.

Long-term Outcomes For Children With Subgaleal Hematoma

When a subgaleal hematoma is not recognized or treated promptly, it can lead to long-term negative outcomes, which can include:

Brain Bleed Attorneys Helping Children with Subgaleal Hemorrhaging

At Reiter & Walsh ABC Law Centers, our dedicated birth injury lawyers represent victims of birth injury every day. We are dedicated to helping clients obtain compensation for medical expenses and care to secure the future of their child. Our birth injury attorneys are equipped to handle medical malpractice cases spanning several domains, and are able to represent clients in many parts of the country. If your loved one was diagnosed with a subgaleal hematoma/hemorrhage (SGH) and suffers from damage or injury due to this, we encourage you to reach out for a free legal consultation.

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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.