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Causes of HIE

In the previous section, we talked about What is HIE. In this section, we will pick up with a discussion of the causes of HIE. In this post, you will learn about what can cause HIE and about the warning signs that a baby may be in danger of an injury before, during, and after birth.

This information has been compiled from government sources, medical sources, and from consulting with experts on HIE.

Let’s dive in with the main causes of HIE.

What Causes HIE?

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy is a birth injury that is caused by oxygen deprivation before, during, or after delivery. HIE can be mild and relatively resolvable. In other cases, it can be severe and result in long term injuries or disabilities. So what exactly is HIE, and what causes this type of birth injury? To start, it’s important to know what qualifies as a birth injury in the first place.

What Exactly is a Birth Injury?

A birth injury is a type of injury or extensive damage that occurs to a child during pregnancy, during labor and delivery, or after birth. It is a blanket term that is used to refer to any type of damage sustained by the child during the pregnancy process. In many cases, a birth injury could be caused by trauma during labor.

Hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, or HIE, is a common type of birth injury that could have mild to severe lifelong effects.

Symptoms of HIE can include fetal distress during pregnancy, low blood pressure, extensive brain damage, motor skill impairment, and more. Cerebral Palsy may be the result of HIE in some cases.

Now that we have an understanding of birth injuries, let’s dive into the common causes of HIE.

Causes of HIE

The main cause of HIE is oxygen depriving injuries that result in damaged brain cells in a child. However, this is a very broad definition. Oxygen deprivation can be caused by many things.

Placental Problems

Placental abruption is one placental problem that could result in a birth injury. This rare but dangerous pregnancy complication is very serious. During pregnancy, the placenta begins to develop inside the uterus in order to supply the fetus with oxygen and vital nutrients. Abruptions happens when the placenta separates from the uterine wall, either fully or partially, before labor. This can occur suddenly and at any time during pregnancy— weeks to 24 hours before delivery. This decreases the fetus’ oxygen and nutrient supply and can cause HIE.

Another placental problem that could result in HIE is placental insufficiency. Insufficiency occurs when the placenta does not develop correctly in the first place or is damaged at some point during the pregnancy. The blood flowing from the mother to the child is reduced, resulting in a lack of oxygen for the baby. This can result in HIE.

Uterine Rupture

When the uterus tears suddenly during pregnancy or during labor it’s called a uterine rupture. This very serious condition is rare and often occurs in mothers who have scar tissue from a previous cesarean section delivery. Uterine rupture can result in a lack of blood flow connection between the mother and the fetus, which could result in HIE. This injury typically occurs during active labor.

Umbilical Cord Problems

Umbilical cord prolapse or cord compression is a dangerous health condition that essentially pinches off the fetus’ direct lifeline to oxygen. A prolapsed cord occurs when the cord itself drops in front of the child during delivery. This could result in the cord being pinched off between the child and the pelvis of the mother.

Maternal Health Problems / High-Risk Pregnancies

A high-risk pregnancy is a type of pregnancy that carries a lot of potential problems, many of which are due to the health or previous medical conditions of the mother. A high-risk pregnancy can be threatening to both the mother and the fetus.

Some high-risk pregnancy conditions include:

  • Women under 17 years of age and over 40 years of age
  • STDs
  • Previous health conditions such as diabetes, kidney problems, and high blood pressure
  • Autoimmune disease
  • Preeclampsia
  • Gestational diabetes
  • Previously having a difficult labor and delivery experience
  • Previous premature birth 
  • Previous delivery injuries

Delivery Trauma

Trauma during the delivery process can also cause HIE and other birth injuries. In most cases, a trained medical professional will assess when the delivery has reached a dangerous point. In this case, a C-section will be performed in a timely manner.

Unfortunately, negligent doctors may not act quickly enough to start a C-section when signs of fetal distress are occurring. In some cases, signs of HIE are very hard to detect during delivery, which makes this type of birth injury very difficult to diagnose right away. 

In some cases, HIE won’t be diagnosed until well after the baby has been delivered. Some parents may notice that their child is not developing motor skills at the same time as other children or are exhibiting difficulty learning or moving. A diagnosis of HIE can be given to babies as old as nine months.

Medical Malpractice

Unfortunately, medical malpractice does happen. Even worse, medical malpractice can result in brain injuries during birth.

HIE is sometimes linked to medical negligence or mistakes, but this is not always the case. The only way to know for sure if you have a case when it comes to an HIE diagnosis is to contact a trusted birth injury attorney for assistance. Be sure to do this as quickly as possible, because early intervention and treatment are key.


Allen, K., & Brandon, D. (2011). Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy: Pathophysiology and Experimental Treatments. Newborn And Infant Nursing Reviews, 11(3), 125-133. doi:10.1053/j.nainr.2011.07.004

UpToDate. (2019). Uptodate.com. Retrieved 18 November 2019, from https://www.uptodate.com/contents/clinical-features-diagnosis-and-treatment-of-neonatal-encephalopathy

Help for Children with HIE – Brown Trial Firm. (2019). Brown Trial Firm. Retrieved 18 November 2019, from https://browntrialfirm.com/hypoxic-ischemic-encephalopathy-hie/

Placental abruption – Symptoms and causes. (2019). Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 18 November 2019, from https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/placental-abruption/symptoms-causes/syc-20376458

Placental Insufficiency: Causes, Symptoms, and Diagnosis. (2019). Healthline. Retrieved 18 November 2019, from https://www.healthline.com/health/placental-insufficiency

Uterine Rupture in Pregnancy: Overview, Rupture of the Unscarred Uterus, Previous Uterine Myomectomy and Uterine Rupture. (2019). Reference.medscape.com. Retrieved 18 November 2019, from https://reference.medscape.com/article/275854-overview

About Brown Trial Firm

Getting help for a child with HIE or Cerebral Palsy can make a big difference. Because early intervention is often key to helping improve a child’s wellbeing, it’s important to act swiftly.

At the Brown Trial Firm, our birth injury attorneys can help you investigate your case, find answers to your questions, and determine whether you are entitled to compensation. 

We offer case reviews at no cost or obligation. Many birth injuries that cause cerebral palsy could have been prevented. Don’t wait, get help today. Call us toll free at +1 (866) 223-7465 or email us a [email protected].

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