Perinatal asphyxia is a condition in which a baby’s brain does not receive enough oxygen during or after birth. This results in cardiorespiratory or brain damage.
Asphyxia can be fatal. Brain cells can begin dying within as little as 5 minutes without oxygen. The disease can also cause long-term damage, including
intellectual disability, delayed development,
Asphyxia may be caused by: The placenta separating too early from the uterine wallPressure on the umbilical cordCertain medicationsInfectionBreathing in meconium from the amniotic fluidBirth trauma
Factors that increase your baby’s chance of perinatal asphyxia include: Previous still birthFetal heart rate abnormalitiesWater breaking more than 12 hours before deliveryMeconium in the fluid surrounding the baby before birthHemorrhage occurring prior to childbirthFever in the motherProlonged first and second stages of laborPre- or post-term laborDelivery with forceps or a vacuum device
Mild asphyxia may cause: Poor muscle toneIrritabilityExtreme drowsinessFeeding difficulties, including poor suck
Severe asphyxia may cause: SeizuresPoor arousalBlue-colored skin or lipsDifficulty breathing
A physical exam will be done. Typically, the history is the most important factor in making the diagnosis.
Your baby’s bodily fluids may be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may need to be taken of your baby’s bodily structures. This can be done with: UltrasoundCT scanMRI scanEchocardiogram
Your baby’s heart and brain activity may also be tested. This can be done with: Electrocardiogram
Evoked potential test for hearing and, rarely, vision
Life-sustaining treatment may be used if reduced brain function has happened but there is no extensive damage yet. Treatment options include mechanical ventilation to take over or support breathing and oxygen therapy. These treatments will be stooped as your baby recovers.
Medication may be needed to support heart function until your baby recovers. Medication and
may also be given to control seizures.
Your baby may be wrapped in cooling blankets within hours of birth. This will lower body temperature and reduce the risk of tissue injury and reduce the risk of long-term problems.
In most cases, asphyxia is sudden and cannot be prevented.
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Last reviewed January 2015 by Michael Woods, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.
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