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Infant Brain Damage
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The brain is the most important organ in the human body. Electrical impulses from the brain control everything from cognitive thought to muscle movement. However, the brain is also one of the most delicate organs in the body and it is particularly vulnerable during childbirth. Every year hundreds of babies suffer some degree of brain damage as a result of trauma during childbirth. Birth injuries involving brain damage are the most serious and potentially devastating type of birth injuries. This page provides a general summary of the different types and causes of infant brain damage.
Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy ("HIE")
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy ("HIE") (also called perinatal asphyxia) is one of the most severe and dangerous types of birth injury. HIE is an injury to the brain caused by a lack of adequate blood and oxygen. All of the cells in the human body require a constant circulation of oxygen and blood to survive. When the supply of oxygen is interrupted, even for just a short time, cells begin to decay and die. The death of cells due to lack of oxygen is called hypoxia. The brain is particularly vulnerable to hypoxia for 2 simple reasons. First, the brain requires much more oxygen and blood than any other organ in the body. Second, unlike cells in other areas of the body, when brain cells decay and die they can never regenerate. This means damage to the brain caused will be permanent.
Interruption or restriction of blood and oxygen to a baby's brain can be caused by a number of complications during labor and delivery. HIE only occurs in 2.5 out of every 1,000 live births in the U.S., but HIE accounts for 23% of all neonatal deaths worldwide. Between 40-60% of babies affected by HIE will either die or have major mental disabilities. Treatment options for HIE are very limited and mainly focus on the prevention of further damage.
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