Neonatal seizures, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), and medical malpractice

Neonatal seizures or convulsions are a type of epileptic fits that affect newborns in their first 28 days of life.

Types of neonatal seizures

The seizures experienced by newborns are different than those that older children and adults experience. Pediatricians and neurologists use four different descriptions for neonatal seizures:

Subtle seizures: Accounting for 50% of neonatal seizures, these have clinical signs that are frequently overlooked.

Clonic seizures: 25% of neonatal seizures are in this category, which is characterized by jerking movements of the muscles.

Myoclonic seizures: This category accounts for 20% of neonatal seizures, and they typically involve short, one or two second twitches of the muscles.

Tonic seizures: These are about 5% of neonatal seizures, and involve the muscle tone in the body, arms, or legs suddenly becoming stiff.

Causes of neonatal seizures

There are many causes of neonatal seizures. When neonatal seizures develop during the first two days of life, though, about 80% of the time they’re caused by hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). HIE is a type of brain damage caused by decreased oxygen levels to the brain and is a major cause of cerebral palsy.

Seizures and HIE

Neonatal seizures during the first two days after birth are one of the signs that physicians look for when they suspect that a baby may have HIE. Other signs include a concerning fetal heart rate pattern on electronic fetal monitoring, abnormally low Apgar scores, and umbilical cord blood gas analysis that reflect an acidotic environment before birth.

In our experience in handling many birth injury cases at Painter Law Firm, some cases of HIE are not immediately diagnosed after birth. In fact, the onset of seizures is sometimes the first sign of serious malfunction or damage to a baby’s immature and growing brain.

In some situations, pediatricians, neonatologists, and other physicians recommend a “wait and see” approach, rather than doing the testing necessary to make a definitive diagnosis. A thorough workup often includes referral to a pediatric neurology specialist, as well as tests like a head ultrasound, CT and MRI scan of the head and brain, electroencephalogram (EEG), and metabolic and genetic testing.

Timing considerations

When a baby is diagnosed with HIE or cerebral palsy, it takes a considerable amount of resources to pay for the medical and healthcare needed to maximize the baby’s potential.

If the newborn’s injuries are because of medical malpractice, there are strict time limits for the parents to bring a lawsuit, defined by the statute of limitations. That’s why the “wait and see” approach can be risky.

If your baby was born in Texas and diagnosed with HIE or cerebral palsy, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for a free strategy session about your potential case.

Robert Painter
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Robert Painter

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him for a free consultation and strategy session by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.