Brain injuries affect about three in every 1,000 full-term newborns in the United States. The rate is much higher for infants born prematurely. Brain injuries in newborns are the leading cause of intellectual impairments, cerebral palsy, and developmental delays. Many of the conditions caused by brain injuries in newborns require lifelong treatment and care.
Brain Injuries in Premature Newborns
Premature birth is the main cause of brain injuries in newborns, with nearly 50 percent of babies that are born prematurely developing abnormal brain functions. Medical care for premature infants has improved, so the rate of survival for premature infants has improved substantially in recent years. Unfortunately, methods to prevent brain injuries from occurring in premature newborns have not been as effective. A major part of the reason that premature newborns are highly susceptible to brain injuries is that the body is not completely developed. Without the lungs, respiratory system, and circulatory system being fully developed, premature infant’s brain often do not receive the amount of oxygen and blood flow to the brain that is required following delivery.
Brain Injuries in Full-Term Newborns
Of full-term newborns with brain injuries, about half of the injuries are caused by oxygen deprivation. Oxygen deprivation can be caused by complications during pregnancy, complications during delivery, or medical errors. Brain injuries in full-term newborns can also be caused by genetic factors and the health of the mother. Infections of the fetal membrane, conditions like hypothyroidism, and placental abnormalities may all contribute to brain injuries in newborns. If these conditions were present and identifiable prior to deliver and action was not taken to prevent newborn brain injuries, it may be considered medical negligence.
Determining Cause of Brain Injuries
Several factors may be helpful in determining the cause of newborn brain injuries. Apgar scores taken at strategic times, beginning at five to ten minutes after birth, acid levels taken following birth, and MRI scans taken when brain injuries are suspected may all help to determine whether insufficient oxygen levels at birth or other factors were responsible for brain injuries. If acid levels are high, MRIs show certain brain injury patterns, and Apgar scores decrease over time following birth, it is likely that oxygen deprivation during labor was the cause of brain injuries.
Diagnosing Brain Injuries in Newborns
Newborn brain injuries are not always easy to diagnose and many children do not show signs of brain injuries until around age five. MRIs, CT scans, and cranial ultrasounds can be helpful in diagnosing brain injuries in newborns, but these tests are not ordered unless brain injury is suspected. Parents and physicians must be highly alert for any motor skill problems or coordination issues that may indicative of brain injuries, especially if there were complications during pregnancy or delivery. If parents suspect that newborn brain injuries may be present, requesting testing maybe helpful in early diagnosis and treatment.
Signs of Newborn Brain Injuries
Signs that a newborn may have sustained a brain injury include:
- Uncontrolled body movements
- Indications of vision issues
- Delays in development
- Rigidness in muscles and joints
Newborn Brain Injury Treatment
If a newborn suffers from brain injuries caused by oxygen deprivation at the time of birth, controlled cooling has shown to be effective in limiting and preventing resulting conditions, in some cases of both premature and full-term newborns. The whole body is cooled to hypothermic levels over a period of 72 hours, which has shown to slow the rate at which the brain suffers damage caused by the oxygen deprivation. Magnetic stimulation to certain areas of the brain and hyperbaric oxygen therapy have also shown to have some effectiveness in limiting damage suffered as a result of newborn brain injuries.
Newborn Brain Injury Research
Research is ongoing for developing new ways to prevent and treat brain injuries in newborns. Scientists and clinical researchers are working together to better understand the way that the human brain develops. Researchers are attempting to figure out how treatments administered during pregnancy may help to mitigate brain injuries caused by genetic factors or medical issues. Researchers are also working to perfect existing treatments that may help to prevent newborn brain injuries from causing life-altering conditions.
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