What Is Hypoxic-Ischaemic Encephalopathy?

Perinatal asphyxia, more appropriately known as Hypoxic-Ischaemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is a type of brain damage that occurs when an infant’s brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen and blood. It is a dangerous condition that requires immediate medical intervention.

HIE is a brain dysfunction caused by a reduction in the supply of oxygen to the brain and other organs (hypoxia), compounded by low blood flow to vital organs (ischemia). Encephalopathy refers to any condition that results from reduced blood and oxygen supply to the brain.

HIE is a condition which affects one in every 1,000 babies when they are born. Learn more about Beth Kendall’s son Wilder and watch a video here.

The conditions of HIE vary, depending on whether the infant has mild, moderate, or severe symptoms. Most of the time, babies with mild symptoms can have a life uninhibited by HIE, whereas babies with severe symptoms may have a shortened lifespan with a number of painful problems.

Children may experience attention, memory, and behavior difficulties which are not always evident at a young age. In some children with mild to moderate HIE, obvious signs and symptoms of an oxygen-depriving event may not be present at the time of birth. In these cases, HIE may become evident later in infancy when one or more of the following occur:

  • Impaired motor function
  • Delayed developmental milestones
  • Seizure disorder
  • Delayed growth
  • Hearing and visual impairments

Children with HIE can have complex care needs (read more about Sarah and Heidi’s story here).

Murray et al (2016) say, there is “growing evidence that children with mild HIE do not follow a normal developmental trajectory. Significant, subtle disability can become more frequent with age as children “grow into” their deficits”

Eunson (2015) notes that children with moderate HIE “there are risks of cognitive deficits that become apparent only once the child is of school age. These cognitive deficits include delays in reading, spelling, and arithmetic; difficulties with language and sensorimotor domains, narrative memory, and sentence repetition; impairment of episodic memory; verbal learning and recall deficits; and problems with visual recall.”

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