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newborn baby in incubator care at nursery

A research team out of Stanford University has improved the technology used to diagnose and potentially better treat brain bleeds in newborn babies.

Traditional ultrasounds are good at showing initial injuries in newborns because of the soft spot in their skulls that allow the sound waves to penetrate. However, they don’t usually find anything useful for long-term diagnosis; babies cannot hold still long enough to capture a detailed enough image. 

The new technique uses math to help fade motion during the procedure into the background, producing a sharper image and better insight into overall brain blood flow and function. It takes images produced by existing ultrasound machines and extracts better details, good news for hospitals worried about buying new equipment.

Premature infants, or “preemies,” are at the highest risk for bleeding in the brain due to their blood vessels’ fragility. Brain bleeds can take the form of tiny strokes (small breaks in the blood vessels) or intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), which is bleeding specific to brain ventricles. Ventricles contain cerebrospinal fluid, which, if damaged, can lead to permanent brain injury. 

IVH is graded from 1-4, with grades 3 and 4 being the most harmful in the long term. Infants in these grades can experience permanent damage such as hydrocephalus (too much brain fluid), cerebral palsy, learning disabilities and death.

Intraventricular hemorrhage and other causes of brain bleeding are unfortunately quite common in preemies and those with other birth complications. As many as 30% of babies born weighing less than 1,000 grams will have IVH. But the Stanford researchers hope their findings can help map out more detailed pictures of babies with normal brains, which can help better evaluate brain bleed damage in affected newborns.

Symptoms and Causes of Brain Bleeds and Injuries

Symptoms of IVH and other brain injuries can include slow heart rate or interrupted breathing, pale or blue skin, seizures, lethargic movements, decreased reflexes and muscle tone, and more. 

While much of IVH and other brain bleeds are not preventable, there are cautions that mothers and healthcare providers can take to give their children the best chance at avoiding this devastating condition. While pregnant, mothers can receive certain corticosteroids between 24-34 weeks that have been shown to lower the risk for IVH in those likely to experience early delivery. 

Labor and delivery negligence (before, during and after birth) is also a sadly common cause of brain bleeds and injury. Injuries can be caused by misuse of forceps (instruments used to help guide the baby’s head out of the birth canal), wrong doses of antibiotics and other drugs, skull fractures due to careless handling, lazy monitoring of mother and child and other types of negligence. 

Delaying the birth too long or depriving the baby of oxygen, particularly in cases where a C-section has been deemed necessary, can raise the baby’s blood pressure, making it more susceptible to brain injury. These would all be strong cases for a medical malpractice suit. Medical errors are the third leading cause of death in the United States, an incredibly sad factor given their preventative nature. 

You can be proactive in preventing birth injury in your child by always being prepared when visiting your healthcare provider. Write down questions beforehand, get a written copy of any new diagnoses or medications, and don’t be afraid to ask follow-up questions on any recommendations you don’t understand. 

Most infant deliveries in this country go just fine, but we want you to have somewhere to turn if yours does not. The team at Paulson & Nance understands that any kind of harm to your new baby would be a nightmare, and our family-centric, experienced birth injury advocates will make sure you aren’t alone. We come to court ready to back up your claims with science and authority. Contact us now or call us at 202-463-1999 for a free consultation, whether you are preparing a case or just want to know more about your options. 

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