Infant Brain Hemorrhage

Bleeding in and around the brain affects over 25 percent of newborns born vaginally, according to research from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Due to the prevalence of infant brain hemorrhage and the health complications that can result, expecting mothers should know the causes, signs, and treatments for this condition.

When blood builds up in the brain, the pressure can immediately begin to kill brain cells and delay development.

When blood builds up in the brain, the pressure can immediately begin to kill brain cells and delay development.

What is an infant brain hemorrhage?

Infant bleeding of the brain, also known as a brain hemorrhage or intracranial hemorrhage, occurs when a blood vessel ruptures within the skull. When blood builds up in or around the skull, the pressure can immediately begin to kill brain cells and delay development. Some brain hemorrhages heal shortly after delivery, but others can lead to permanent brain damage and birth injuries such as cerebral palsy.

There are several different types of intracranial hemorrhages:

  • Subarachnoid hemorrhages are the most common type of brain bleeds and occur most often in full-term newborns. Blood builds up below the innermost of the two membranes covering the brain, which can trigger seizures and lead to hydrocephalus (buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain) and apnea.
  • Subdural hemorrhages occur between the outer and inner layers of the brain covering. They can lead to seizures and a high level of bilirubin, which has been linked to the development of cerebral palsy.
  • Intraventricular hemorrhages (IVH) occur when blood seeps into the area of the brain where spinal fluid is produced. These brain bleeds are especially common in premature infants or those with low birth weight, since their brains and vessels aren’t fully developed.

Though some brain bleeds are mild, the cause should always be identified so proper steps can be taken to avoid lifelong brain injuries for the infant.

Causes of infant bleeding of the brain

There are three main causes of brain hemorrhages in babies.

  • Ischemia is a condition in which the brain doesn’t receive adequate blood supply. The lack of blood flow causes vessel walls to break down until a vessel bursts.
  • Hypoxia is a condition in which the baby’s blood doesn’t have enough oxygen in it. Similar to ischemia, a lack of oxygen in the blood causes cell death, which leads to the breakdown of blood vessels.
  • Head trauma during delivery or skull malformations can lead to cracks in the skull bone that allow blood to seep into areas around the brain. Head trauma may occur while the baby is still in the womb, during delivery because of improper use of tools such as forceps or vacuum extractors, or after delivery if the baby is dropped.

Although some causes of infant brain bleeds are unavoidable, with proper fetal monitoring, signs of distress are easily detectable. Medical staff must act promptly when a baby shows signs of distress to prevent lifelong brain damage from a hemorrhage.

Signs and treatment of intracranial hemorrhage

The symptoms of a brain hemorrhage can be difficult for a baby to communicate. Some of the most common symptoms in adult brain hemorrhages—dizziness, difficulty speaking, and headache—can’t be expressed by newborns.

Instead, doctors and families should look for the following signs of infant brain bleeding:

  • Lethargy
  • Seizures
  • Trouble feeding, weak sucking
  • Apnea (breathing pauses)
  • Weakness in arms/legs, poor muscle tone

If you believe your baby has a brain hemorrhage, doctors will likely order a brain imaging study such as a CT scan or MRI to look for signs of bleeding. This will help medical staff understand where exactly the blood vessel burst and where the fluid has built up in or around the brain.

When a baby is diagnosed with an intracranial hemorrhage, most often they receive supportive measures such as continuous warmth, fluids, and other treatment to maintain body functions. Many babies simply need time to heal from a burst blood vessel. However, more serious injuries—especially subdural hemorrhages—are treated with surgery to repair the blood vessel and drain away fluid that could be causing brain damage.

Brain bleeds and medical malpractice

While some infant brain hemorrhages aren’t preventable, they are often detectable with proper fetal monitoring. When a baby begins to show signs of distress during delivery, an emergency C-section may be required. Failure to perform a timely C-section may increase the risk of hemorrhage and other birth injuries.

Severe head trauma during and after delivery can lead to hemorrhages as well. Improper use of forceps or vacuum extractors can damage the skull and brain, which can lead to bleeding. If a physician or nurse drops the baby, the resulting damage can also cause bleeding.

Call us today for a free consultation

Dr. Jack Tolliver is a successful physician and medical malpractice lawyer who understands the complexities of both hospitals and courtrooms.

If you know a child who may have suffered from a brain hemorrhage as a result of medical negligence, encourage you to contact our firm and learn more. With our team’s medical experience, we can thoroughly and quickly review your case at no charge. If we accept your case, we will pursue maximum compensation. We never pass on costs and expenses if we do not recover damages.

Photo credit: James Brandon via Flickr

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