What Causes A Newborn To Have A Stroke?

As unfair as it may seem, children and infants can suffer strokes. When a newborn baby has a stroke, medical professionals call it a neonatal or perinatal stroke. Neonatal strokes can occur anywhere from the middle of pregnancy to 28 days after birth, a timeframe known as the neonatal period. 

There are multiple causes of a neonatal stroke. The causes all relate to some form of injury to the blood vessels in the brain. Strokes in newborns are generally one of the following types:

Arterial Ischemic Stroke (AIS)

Arterial ischemic stroke is the most common type of stroke in newborns. AIS is when a blood clot obstructs blood flow in the arteries of the brain or spinal cord. Arteries are the blood vessels that carry blood to the brain. Denying the brain of blood also deprives it of oxygen. Causes of AIS include:

  • Blood clots
  • Bacterial infections, such as meningitis 
  • Congenital heart disease (which increases the risk of stroke)

Hemorrhagic Stroke (HS)

Bleeding in the brain can cause a hemorrhagic stroke. It occurs when blood spills directly into the brain tissue. A hemorrhagic stroke can be caused by:

  • Abnormal blood vessels (such as cavernous malformations, arteriovenous malformations, or aneurysms)
  • Blood clot disorders (thrombophilia), such as hemophilia or sickle cell 

Cerebral Sinovenous Thrombosis (CSVT)

Cerebral sinovenous thrombosis occurs when a blood clot occurs in the largest veins in the brain known as the venous sinuses. Veins have the opposite function of arteries. Their job is to carry blood away from the brain and to the heart. When the venous sinuses become obstructed by a blood clot, the drainage of blood from the brain is blocked, leading to stroke or other brain damage. Cerebral sinovenous thrombosis can be caused by:

  • Blood clotting disorders
  • Dehydration
  • Bacterial infections

Periventricular Venous Infarction (PVI)

Periventricular venous infarction is a type of stroke that affects the fetus. Weak blood vessels in the periventricular region of the brain (the regions just beside the ventricles) break, causing blood to leak. The hemorrhaging blocks the veins that drain blood from the white matter of the periventricular region, injuring the white matter. White matter is responsible for carrying information. In PVI, the white matter that is injured is responsible for carrying information to move the opposite side of the body. The injured white matter leads to hemiplegic cerebral palsy, a condition that affects movement, balance, and posture. 

Medical Negligence

Improper care by medical professionals can lead to stroke or other birth injuries. When a birth injury is caused by medical practitioners it is referred to as medical malpractice or medical negligence. You may be able to recover compensation for your child in a medical malpractice claim if your newborn suffered a stroke due to: 

  • Use of forceps or a vacuum to remove the baby 
  • Excessive force in pulling baby through the birth canal
  • Pressure on the newborn’s head or nerves
  • Oxygen deprivation
  • Failure to diagnose or misdiagnosis in prenatal care
  • Poor monitoring of the mother during labor and delivery
  • Improper manipulation during delivery
  • Medication or treatment that was improperly prescribed or administered

What Are Symptoms of a Perinatal Stroke?

When a newborn shows signs of a stroke, it is usually in the form of a seizure. They may have a seizure a day after birth. Other signs and symptoms that indicate a stroke has taken place are:

  • Lethargy or severe tiredness (hypotonia)
  • Weakness on a single side of the body 
  • Difficulty feeding
  • Breathing problems such as periods where breathing stops temporarily (apnea)
  • Neurological problems 

Other times a baby may have no signs at all until 6 months old or later. The child may show signs of weakness on one side of the body or preference for one side over the other. Since the stroke was not recognized when it occurred, this is called a “presumed perinatal stroke.”

Diagnosing and Treating Neonatal Strokes

Neonatal strokes are typically diagnosed using brain imaging. CT scans (computerized tomography) can be used to detect stroke in newborn babies, but MRIs (magnetic resonance imaging) are the best way to test as they can detect all forms of neonatal stroke. Additional tests may also be used to confirm a diagnosis.

Treatment for perinatal stroke may include administering clot-busting medicine to dissolve clots that block the blood flow. These treatments are usually for adults but have been used in cases of neonatal stroke where appropriate and safe. Most of the stroke treatment revolves around neuroprotective care, preventing further damage to uninjured brain cells. Care focuses on maintaining high blood oxygen levels, proper blood pressure, blood glucose levels, and treating fever. 

The use of antibiotics or blood thinners may also be necessary if the stroke is related to bacterial infection, heart disease, or if cerebral sinovenous thrombosis is the cause. 

Long-term Effects of a Newborn Stroke

Stroke in babies often leaves the child with long-term health, developmental, or neurological problems. These conditions may include:

  • Cerebral palsy
  • Epilepsy (sudden and reoccurring seizures)
  • Vision problems
  • Language disorders (difficulty speaking)
  • Learning and cognition problems acquiring knowledge, understanding, or awareness.

Compassionate Legal Help for You and Your Baby at Brown & Barron

The birth injury lawyers serving Maryland at Brown & Barron, LLC understand how traumatic a time this may be for you and your baby. If your newborn suffered a neonatal stroke due to medical malpractice, we can help you fight for the money you need to care for your child. Our legal team will investigate to discover what caused your newborn to have a stroke and hold the negligent medical providers responsible. Call us for a free consultation today.

Baby in a incubator
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