Being a new parent is a challenging journey. And what makes it even more worrisome is if your baby is born with Neonatal Encephalopathy (NE). This condition is prevalent in 3 out of every 1000 births and can lead to neonatal mortality if left undiagnosed and untreated. However, this condition can be managed using the right treatment options.
If your baby has been diagnosed with Neonatal Encephalopathy post delivery, then knowing about what treatment options there are, and what aftercare procedures to invest in, can help ease your worries and ensure that you can provide your baby with the right treatment.
To learn all about Neonatal Encephalopathy, read ahead for a comprehensive breakdown.
What is Neonatal Encephalopathy (NE)?
Neonatal Encephalopathy is commonly known as a syndrome in newborn babies where neurological functioning is unbalanced and disturbed. The reasons for this are several, however, the most common cause is the lack of oxygen reaching the baby’s brain and body during pregnancy or post-birth.
With the lack of oxygen in the baby’s body, the probability of damage to the brain and nervous system increases. This can also impact other organs. For instance, the lungs, liver, heart, and liver can begin to slow down in their functioning and experience complications.
In addition, newborn babies who are diagnosed with Neonatal Encephalopathy and left untreated may develop a permanent brain injury if they survive. Cerebral palsy is also a common after-effect of Neonatal Encephalopathy. This is a motor disability that impacts movement and balance.
However, not all hope is lost. If Neonatal Encephalopathy is diagnosed in its early stages and is mild, the chances of improving and preventing the unwanted outcomes can be obtained.
Causes for Neonatal Encephalopathy (NE)
The most common cause of Neonatal Encephalopathy is the lack of oxygen in the baby’s brain. When this is the known cause of Neonatal Encephalopathy, the condition is usually referred to as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).
However, lack of oxygen is not the only reason for Neonatal Encephalopathy. Studies have shown other causes leading up to Neonatal Encephalopathy as well. Here are some of them.
- Congenital Brain Malfunction
- Infection in the mother’s uterus during pregnancy
- Genetic disorder
- Placental abnormalities
- Intraventricular hemorrhage – caused by premature bleeding
- Neonatal vascular stroke
- A genetic disorder
The Symptoms of Neonatal Encephalopathy
The signs of Neonatal Encephalopathy are quite noticeable and can be observed by your health care practitioner almost immediately. Some of the symptoms that the newborn is likely to experience following birth are respiratory problems such as difficulty breathing, depressed reflexes, frequent seizures, and subnormal consciousness.
How is Neonatal Encephalopathy (NE) Diagnosed
To rule out and diagnose Neonatal Encephalopathy, the doctor performs a physical examination of the baby post-delivery. If any of the signs or symptoms of Neonatal Encephalopathy mentioned above are observed, the baby is taken to the neonatal intensive care unit (NICU). Here the baby is given specialized care to manage the symptoms.
Here is a breakdown of the treatment process:
Once diagnosed with Neonatal Encephalopathy, the baby is transferred to the NICU. Here, specialized neurology equipment is used to provide care. For this, a neurophysiologist and pediatric neurologist are required to be on-site 24 hours a day. This is key in ensuring the right care is provided to the baby with Neonatal Encephalopathy.
To assist in the breathing process, the baby is provided mechanical ventilation and is placed inside an incubator. Medicines and fluids are intravenously provided through an IV. Several blood tests are conducted as well to monitor and check the functionality of other internal organs. Kidney and liver problems are common concerns following Neonatal Encephalopathy, hence they are closely monitored during immediate care.
Immediate treatment is often sufficient to manage the symptoms of Neonatal Encephalopathy. However, if the condition worsens, additional steps are taken in the treatment process.
One common treatment is Therapeutic Hypothermia. In this treatment, the baby is placed on a cooling blanket. A temperature monitor is also attached. This helps reduce inflammation in the brain and expedites the brain’s healing.
Moreover, an Electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring may be administered for 24 hours. Since seizures are common in babies diagnosed with Neonatal Encephalopathy, it is important to monitor them to identify complications and prevent further damage to the brain. A magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan of the brain is also followed as the last step. Once it has been ruled out as being safe for the baby to be taken out of care, the baby can go home.
Babies that have been diagnosed with Neonatal Encephalopathy receive an MRI scan and follow-up care after being discharged from the NICU. In addition, since their risk of developing cerebral palsy, or any other neurological condition is high, a team of occupational therapists is needed. Speech therapists, physical therapists, and pediatric therapists can help prevent developmental problems going forward.
The Bottom Line
Neonatal Encephalopathy (NE) is a common concern most babies face after being born. However, this syndrome can be managed and treated when diagnosed in its early stages. Incubation, IV treatments, and ventilation are some of the options that the doctor will administer to prevent the condition from impacting other internal organs. ECG and MRI scans are follow-up procedures that are then conducted to help ensure that the baby is healthy. Occupational therapists, speech therapists, and neurological therapists will assist in the cognitive development of the baby as well.