Brain Damage

Quick Answer

Brain damage during birth can lead to lifelong disability and severe physical and neurological deficits. Brain damage in infants is often caused by physical injury during birth due to the use of forceps or vacuum extraction techniques.

What is Brain Damage?

Brain damage is a serious injury that can lead to both physical and neurological problems. Generally, brain damage is associated with the deterioration or destruction of brain cells.

Unfortunately, millions of infants are affected by brain damage annually. Brain damage can be caused by head injury during delivery, a lack of oxygen flowing to the fetus, jaundice or viral or bacterial infections.

Infant brain damage varies in its severity and outcomes. Mild brain injuries may not lead to full neurological impairment. However, severe brain injuries can lead to lifelong disability. They often necessitate full-time care from medical professionals.

Types of Brain Damage

Brain damage symptoms and prognosis are different for each patient. Although no two cases are completely alike, certain groups of brain damage patients share certain characteristics. Researchers and medical professionals separate brain damage cases into three distinct groups—mild injuries, moderate injuries and severe injuries.

  • Mild injuries: Infants with mild brain injuries during birth may suffer from mild bleeding on the brain, hematoma or fracture.
  • Moderate injuries: Moderate brain injuries during birth include extended bleeding and a lack of oxygen flow to the brain. This group also includes significant fractures or subdural hemorrhage.
  • Severe injuries: In severe birth brain injuries, pressure in the head may build up due to extensive bleeding and cause seizures. Intraventricular hemorrhaging may adversely impact the development of the infant’s brain. Physical injuries to the head during birth can result in severe brain injuries.

Causes of Brain Damage

Brain damage can be caused by a number of different conditions and physical injuries. The causes of brain damage are typically separated into two groups: widespread and localized.

Widespread brain damage describes conditions which cause injury throughout the brain. On the other hand, localized brain damage describes conditions which cause injury to a specific area of the brain.

Widespread Brain Damage

  • Hypoxia: When the infant brain does not receive sufficient levels of oxygen, brain damage can result.
  • Poisoning: Toxins such as methylmercury are known to cause widely distributed brain damage in the developing infant brain.
  • Infection: Viral or bacterial infections can adversely affect the development of an unborn child’s brain.

Localized Brain Damage

  • Physical injury: Brain injury can be caused by excessive force from forceps or vacuum extraction during delivery.
  • Stroke: Strokes during birth can cause brain damage to an infant brain’s. The occurrence of a stroke may be caused by low oxygen levels in the blood.
  • Aneurysm: Brain aneurysm can be caused by high blood pressure or blood vessel defect during birth.

Negligent medical staff may fail to diagnose and act on conditions like hypoxia or brain aneurysm. They may also cause a physical brain injury during a rushed delivery.

Diagnosing Brain Damage in Your Child

There are certain symptoms of brain damage that parents and caregivers may detect after birth. If these signs are detected, further investigation from a medical professional is recommended.

Signs of brain damage in babies:

  • Abnormally shaped spine
  • Abnormally large forehead
  • Abnormally small head
  • Seizures
  • Neck stiffness

Signs of brain damage in toddlers:

  • Visual impairment
  • Speech impairment
  • Lack of motor coordination
  • Spasticity of muscles
  • Seizures

Signs of brain damage in children:

  • Seizures
  • Persistent headaches
  • Slurred speech
  • Extreme mood swings
  • State of disorientation or a “dazed” look
  • Problems with memory
  • Muscular weakness on one side of the body

Brain Damage vs Developmental Delay

Developmental delays differ from brain damage. A developmental delay exists when a growing child does not reach certain milestones, such as motor or social skills, by the expected time.

Developmental delays are not necessarily caused by brain damage. For example, developmental delays can be caused by autism or genetic factors. A medical professional can make a developmental delay diagnosis.

Effects of Brain Damage

Brain damage can lead to a number of distinct behavioral and cognitive effects in infants and children. Recognizing these effects is critical to getting a diagnosis and beginning the treatment process.

  • Behavioral effects: Brain damage can cause an exaggeration of personality characteristics or make an individual act “out of character.”
  • Cognitive effects: Brain injuries can change the way that individuals remember people and events. The ability to learn, think and perceive is also adversely affected.
  • Coma and reduced awareness states: Children with brain injuries may constantly seem as if they are in a daze. Some may fall into a coma.
  • Emotional effects: Individuals suffering from brain damage may present extreme mood swings, depression or anxiety.
  • Communication problems: Infants and children with brain damage may find it difficult to communicate through language or physical movements.
  • Physical effects: Brain injuries can cause problems with mobility, muscle weakness or range of motion.
  • Hormonal imbalances: Hormonal imbalance due to brain damage may manifest as  diabetes, weight gain or reduced body hair.

Treating Brain Damage

In the case of brain injury, it is imperative to seek medical care immediately for initial treatment. Hospitals are often involved in stabilizing and managing the condition after symptoms appear. After diagnosis, rehabilitation and continuing care is the next step in long term management.

It is important for parents and caregivers to understand what caring for a child with brain damage entails. This means working with medical professionals to understand your child’s brain injury, what symptoms may occur and how to deal with them.

A big part of being an effective caregiver is taking care of your own physical and mental health. Support groups can play a significant role in providing caregivers with emotional support.

Brain Damage Statistics

Improvements in medical techniques have dramatically reduced the number of birth injuries over the past several decades. However, many birth injuries remain preventable, and a significant number are caused by medical negligence.

Here are some important statistics on birth injuries and brain damage:

  • The most common birth injuries directly impact the brain. Hematoma, subdural and intracranial hemorrhage, hypoxia, spinal cord injuries and brachial plexus injuries are all commonly reported birth injuries.
  • Researchers have found that rural births are over 30 times more likely to result in birth injury than urban or suburban births. This is perhaps due to a lack of trained medical professionals or inadequate prenatal care.
  • In 2006, it was estimated that over 157,000 birth injuries could have been avoided.

Caring for a Child with Brain Damage

Brain damage during birth can be caused by a variety of different factors. Often, it is the preventable result of medical negligence. The most common birth injuries include oxygen deprivation and bleeding on the brain, both of which can lead to brain damage.

Unfortunately, brain damage is a debilitating injury for infants that often leads to a lifetime of significant physical and neurological problems.

Birth Injury Support Team

The Birth Injury Justice Center was founded in 2003 by a team of legal professionals to educate and empower victims and families affected by birth injuries. Our team is devoted to providing you with the best resources and legal information for all types of birth injuries.

View 3 Sources
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  2. Ibrahim, N. A., Muhye, A., & Abdulie, S. (2017). Prevalence of Birth Asphyxia and Associated Factors among Neonates Delivered in Dilchora Referral Hospital, in Dire Dawa, Eastern Ethiopia. Clinics in Mother and Child Health, 14(4). doi: 10.4172/2090-7214.1000279
  3. Stevenson, D. K., Benitz, W. E., Sunshine, P., Hintz, S. R., & Druzin, M. L. (2018). Fetal and neonatal brain injury. Cambridge, United Kingdom: Cambridge University Press.
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