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Neonatal encephalopathies more avoidable than earlier thought

For too many parents what should be a joyous event becomes a tragedy when a baby is injured in childbirth. Any injury is terrible, but one of the worst is to a newborn's brain. Neonatal brain injuries often mean severe impairment and lifelong physical and cognitive problems. For this reason, identifying and understanding all encephalopathies and their causes can help lead to better treatment of brain-injured infants. In Illinois, such brain injuries could lead to compensation to the baby and parents if the damage is caused by medical malpractice.

Guidelines jointly released this spring by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists are encouraging all doctors to look at all possible causes of brain damage to newborns. Earlier guidelines issued in 2003 by both academies only covered deficits in oxygen supply to infants' brains, a leading cause of encephalopathy. The latest guidelines were published in both "Obstetrics and Gynecology" and "Pediatrics." The response from gynecologists and obstetricians was highly positive.

The guidelines also suggest that pediatricians can be more active in diagnosing newborns with suspected brain injuries. Out of some 3,000 hospitals and birthing centers in the country that are involved with delivering babies, only about 1,000 have intensive care units specializing in newborn babies.

Infant encephalopathies have various causes. Some occur during the delivery of a baby and are related to procedures used during delivery, and some are the results of unrelated factors, including pregnancy itself - in particular, a pregnant mother's health. Any health disorder or genetic predisposition to encephalopathy can also lead to brain damage in an infant.

If brain damage is caused by some problem during childbirth, an infant's parents may have just cause to pursue legal action against a medical practitioner.

Source: HealthFinder.gov, "Some cases of neonatal encephalopathy may be preventable", accessed on Dec. 3, 2014

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