Perinatal asphyxia and its possible effects

Oct 16, 2019 | Serious Injury

While the birth of a baby in Washington is typically a joyous occasion, complications can arise that can potentially threaten the baby’s life. One of these is perinatal asphyxia which, according to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital, can occur during birth, before or just after. It results when the baby does not receive enough oxygen, which can have a severely negative effect on many organ systems. 

Prior to birth, a baby’s supply of oxygen comes from the mother’s bloodstream via the placenta and umbilical cord. Therefore, problems with the placenta are common causes of asphyxia that occurs during or before birth. It can also result from low maternal blood pressure or decreased maternal respiration. Following the birth, perinatal asphyxia can result from low blood pressure, heart or lung disease or anemia in the baby. 

According to the University of Chicago, perinatal asphyxia tends to affect the brain and/or heart first, but it can also have a negative effect on other vital organs. The most serious complication of perinatal asphyxia is hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy, which is damage to the brain and other parts of the central nervous system. The possible effects can last a lifetime and include ADHD, cerebral palsy, epilepsy, learning disabilities and visual impairment, as well as developmental and cognitive disorders. 

Myocardial dysfunction describes the failure of the heart muscles to perform the way they are supposed to. Though serious in itself, myocardial dysfunction can also cause backflow into the lungs, which can lead to fluid buildup called pulmonary edema. 

Another severe complication of perinatal asphyxia is acute kidney injury. Hypoxia, which is a lack of oxygen in the blood that results from asphyxia, prevents reabsorption of water and electrolytes by causing tubular dysfunction. This can be dangerous unless a health care provider intervenes to balance electrolytes and fluids. In that event, the effects of AKI may be reversible.