Perinatal asphyxia, neonatal asphyxia or birth asphyxia is the medical condition resulting from deprivation of oxygen to a newborn infant that lasts long enough during the birth process to cause physical harm, usually to the brain. Hypoxic damage can occur to most of the infant's organs (heart, lungs, liver, gut, kidneys), but brain damage is of most concern and perhaps the least likely to quickly or completely heal. In more pronounced cases, an infant will survive, but with damage to the brain manifested as either mental, such as developmental delay or intellectual disability, or physical, such as spasticity.
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It results most commonly from a drop in maternal blood pressure or some other substantial interference with blood flow to the infant's brain during delivery. This can occur due to inadequate circulation or perfusion, impaired respiratory effort, or inadequate ventilation. Perinatal asphyxia happens in 2 to 10 per 1000 newborns that are born at term, and more for those that are born prematurely. WHO estimates that 4 million neonatal deaths occur yearly due to birth asphyxia, representing 38% of deaths of children under 5 years of age.
Perinatal asphyxia can be the cause of hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy or intraventricular hemorrhage, especially in preterm births. An infant suffering severe perinatal asphyxia usually has poor color (cyanosis), perfusion, responsiveness, muscle tone, and respiratory effort, as reflected in a low 5 minute Apgar score. Extreme degrees of asphyxia can cause cardiac arrest and death. If resuscitation is successful, the infant is usually transferred to a neonatal intensive care unit.
There has long been a scientific debate over whether newborn infants with asphyxia should be resuscitated with 100% oxygen or normal air. It has been demonstrated that high concentrations of oxygen lead to generation of oxygen free radicals, which have a role in reperfusion injury after asphyxia. Research by Ola Didrik Saugstad and others led to new international guidelines on newborn resuscitation in 2010, recommending the use of normal air instead of 100% oxygen.
- Elderly or young mothers
- Prolonged rupture of membranes
- Meconium-stained fluid
- Multiple births
- Lack of antenatal care
- Low birth weight infants
- Augmentation of labour with oxytocin
- Antepartum hemorrhage
- Severe eclampsia and pre-eclampsia
- Antepartum and intrapartum anemia
- Inadequate oxygenation of maternal blood due to hypoventilation during anesthesia, heart diseases, pneumonia, respiratory failure
- Low maternal blood pressure due to hypotension e.g. compression of vena cava and aorta, excess anaesthesia
- Inadequate relaxation of uterus due to excess oxytocin
- Premature separation of placenta
- Placental insufficiency
- Knotting of umbilical cord around the neck of infant
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- A= Establish open airway: Suctioning, if necessary endotracheal intubation
- B= Breathing: Through tactile stimulation, PPV, bag and mask, or through endotracheal tube
- C= Circulation: Through chest compressions and dedications if needed
- D= Drugs: Adrenaline .01 of .1 solution
- Hypothermia treatment to reduce the extent of brain injury
- Epinephrine .01 dose 10
- Saline solution for hypovolemia
There is current controversy regarding the medicolegal definitions and impacts of birth asphyxia. Plaintiff's attorneys often take the position that birth asphyxia is often preventable, and is often due to substandard care and human error. They have utilized some studies in their favor that have demonstrated that, "...although other potential causes exist, asphyxia and hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy affect a substantial number of babies, and they are preventable causes of cerebral palsy." The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists disputes that conditions such as cerebral palsy are usually attributable to preventable causes, instead associating them with circumstances arising prior to birth and delivery.
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- Norwegian paediatrician honoured by University of Athens, Norway.gr
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- "APFEL Handout: Birth Asphyxia & Cerebral Palsy" (PDF). Colorado Bar Association. Retrieved April 8, 2016.
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- Asphyxia neonatorum, School of Child and Adolescent Health, University of Cape Town