Brain ischemia is the medical term for lack of blood flow to the brain. Blood carries oxygen and nutrients to the brain, and when the brain is deprived of blood, it is deprived of oxygen. When brain cells go too long without oxygen, they begin to die off, which can cause irreversible damage. That damage can happen in as little as five minutes.
In babies, ischemic injuries are closely related to hypoxic and anoxic injuries. The term usually used to describe these injuries is hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, which means an injury to the brain caused by lack of blood and oxygen. The body tries to preserve the brain by shifting blood and oxygen to it, which means that other organs, like the liver and kidney, may be damaged first.
Causes of brain ischemia
Brain ischemia describes a result, and not a cause. There are many things that can cause restricted blood flow to a baby’s brain.
- Placental abruption (separation of placenta from the uterine wall)
- Abnormally fast contractions, particularly a sinusoidal pattern
- An umbilical cord that is partially trapped between the baby’s body and the cervix, pinching the umbilical cord and preventing the flow of blood and oxygen
- Preeclampsia and eclampsia
- Delivery trauma
- Overmedication with Pitocin, Cytotec, or Cervidil (used to induce labor)
- Shoulder dystocia (where the baby becomes trapped in the birth canal, and contractions on the baby prevent the flow of blood and oxygen to the brain)
Doctors and delivery nurses must pay attention to their patients and electronic fetal monitor strips, which provide information about the timing and severity of contractions, as well as the baby’s heart rate. The strips can be reassuring or non-reassuring, and are good indicators of fetal stress and fetal distress. They are often the first sign that a baby is in trouble.
Injuries caused by brain ischemia
Brain ischemia can have permanent and devastating effects on a baby. When the brain is deprived of blood and nutrients, its cells quickly begin to die. The death of too many brain cells can cause:
- Cerebral palsy
- Mental retardation
- Developmental delays
- Vision impairment
- Hearing loss
- Seizure disorders
Diagnosing ischemic brain injuries
There are many tests that your child’s doctor can use to determine whether your child has a brain ischemia injury. First, doctors will closely examine the fetal monitor strips to determine if the child was at risk for that type of injury. Next, doctors will examine the APGAR scores—a rating system used to evaluate the health of the baby at birth. Blood gas levels will be examined immediately after birth—certain results indicate the presence of a hypoxic-ischemic injury. Over the course of days, weeks and months after the birth, a series of MRIs may be taken to determine whether portions of the brain are affected, and at what rate. Clinical signs—the baby’s movement and muscle tone, and whether the baby has seizures, for example, will also help physicians to decide whether an ischemic brain injury occurred.
Was my child’s birth injury caused by medical malpractice?
If your child has a birth injury, your doctors will probably not tell you much about the cause of the injury. They may not know, or may be afraid to tell you the truth. Ischemic brain injuries, including hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, can cause cerebral palsy, developmental delays and mental retardation. If your child has any of those medical conditions, and if you would like to know if that injury could have been prevented by your doctor, contact our medical malpractice attorneys at (855) 712-7818 or online for a free consultation. Your child may be entitled to money that can pay for your child’s medical care and therapies.