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Common Causes of HIE

October 03, 2021
Common Causes of HIE

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy represents one of the most dangerous types of brain injuries that an infant can suffer. HIE can result from many different causes. While most cases of HIE are not preventable, in some cases the causes of HIE may be traced to negligent medical care rendered by medical providers. When medical malpractice results in an infant suffering from HIE, a family may be entitled to recover compensation. 

What Is HIE?

Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy, or HIE, is a type of brain injury that occurs when the brain does not receive sufficient blood or oxygen flow for a period of time. HIE can occur during pregnancy, during labor and delivery, or even after birth

High-Risk Factors for HIE

Mothers may have certain high-risk factors that increase the chances of a complication that leads to HIE. These high-risk factors may include:

  • Having previously had a c-section, where the scar in the uterus can lead to a rupture
  • High blood pressure conditions, including preeclampsia
  • Lifestyle choices during pregnancy, such as alcohol, tobacco, or drug use, which can lead to a placental abruption

Below are some of the most common causes of HIE.

Umbilical Cord Issues

HIE can result from issues with an infant’s umbilical cord, including an infant getting entangled in their umbilical cord or a crushing or compression of the cord. Other examples of umbilical cord issues include a knot naturally forming in the umbilical cord, or a prolapse of the cord, where the cord is delivered before the baby.


Fetal or maternal hemorrhage, or excessive bleeding, can also lead to HIE where the baby is not receiving sufficient blood flow to deliver oxygen to the brain.

Placental Issues

Various placental issues can lead to pregnancy complications that cause HIE, including:

  • Placental abruption, where the placenta separates from the uterus prior to delivery
  • Placental clotting, often due to clotting disorders suffered by the mother
  • Placenta previa, where the placenta lies low in the uterus, covering the cervix and causing difficulties with delivery

Uterine Rupture

Uterine rupture, or tearing of the uterus, can also lead to complications that cause HIE. A uterine rupture can happen naturally or spontaneously, but they often frequently occur when attempting a vaginal birth after previously having had a cesarean section.

Labor and Delivery

Complications during labor and delivery can lead to a baby suffering a lack of oxygen or blood flow that causes HIE. Common complications include shoulder dystocia, where a baby’s shoulders get “stuck” in the birth canal, or breech birth, where a baby is born in a position other than head first. Delivery teams should carefully monitor for any signs of complications with delivery, and if necessary proceed to an emergency c-section to deliver the baby as quickly as possible.

Blood Clots

Blood clotting disorders can be genetically passed on from parent to baby. Unfortunately, many people may not realize that they themselves have a blood clotting disorder until the disorder causes their child to suffer HIE. Genetic testing or blood testing can help identify if parents are carriers of blood clotting disorders that may increase their child’s risk of HIE.

Post-Birth Causes

In some cases, HIE may develop post-delivery due to:

  • Breathing issues, where a baby has trouble starting breathing on their own and assistive ventilation is not quickly provided
  • Hypoglycemia or hyperglycemia, caused by gestational diabetes. A sugar high or crash can cause a baby to suffer seizures that lead to HIE
  • Meconium aspiration syndrome, where a baby aspirates on their first bowel movement, which can occur during delivery
  • Infections acquired during delivery

Contact A Medical Malpractice Attorney for a Consultation About Your HIE Case in Pennsylvania

Were you or a loved one injured due to medical malpractice in Pennsylvania? Then you need to talk to an experienced medical malpractice lawyer as soon as possible for guidance on how to proceed. The Pittsburgh HIE attorneys at Berger & Lagnese, LLC are prepared to assist you with your legal claim. We represent victims of negligent surgeons, doctors, nurses, and pharmacists throughout Pennsylvania, including Indiana, New Castle, Uniontown, and Washington. Call us today at (412) 471-4300 or fill out our online contact form to schedule a consultation. Our main office is located at 310 Grant St., #720, Pittsburgh, PA 15219.

The articles on this blog are for informative purposes only and are no substitute for legal advice or an attorney-client relationship. If you are seeking legal advice, please contact our law firm directly.

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