A neonatal stroke (also called a perinatal stroke) is defined as an interruption of blood flow to an infant’s brain that occurs between 20 weeks gestation and first 28 days after the child is born. Neonatal strokes can be ischemic or hemorrhagic. Ischemic neonatal strokes are caused by some form of blockage in the blood vessels. Hemorrhagic strokes occur when blood vessels rupture and bleed.
What causes a newborn to have a stroke?
Neonatal strokes are the result of some event within the body that suddenly disrupts the normal flow of blood to the baby’s brain. In adults, the underlying causes leading to a stroke are usually high blood pressure, diabetes or some other condition.
In babies, however, the causes of strokes are much more complex and varied. There are 2 different types of neonatal stroke: ischemic & hemorrhagic. Ischemic neonatal strokes occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted by a blockage within the blood vessels (e.g., a blood clot). With hemorrhagic neonatal strokes, the blood vessels rupture and the blood does not get circulated to the brain as a result.
- Oxygen interruption during childbirth
- Blood disorders such as sickle cell anemia
- Physical damage to arteries that deliver blood to the brain
- Untreated infections
- Low volume of amniotic fluid
- Congenital clotting disorder
- Long labor and delivery
- Asphyxia or hypoxia
- Prolonged membrane rupture
A number of complications arising during pregnancy can also increase the risk of ischemic neonatal stroke.
Hemorrhagic strokes in newborns are less common and they are often linked with the following causes:
- Damage to blood vessels caused by head injuries (often suffered during childbirth)
- An aneurysm
- Blood clotting diseases like hemophilia
The middle cerebral artery is by far the most common site of strokes in babies.
Can a baby have a stroke in the womb?
Yes. When a baby has a stroke in the womb it is known as a perinatal stroke. A perinatal stroke in the womb is almost always an ischemic stroke caused by a blockage. Perinatal stroke during pregnancy is one of the main causes of hemiplegic cerebral palsy.
What is the difference between a perinatal and neonatal stroke?
A perinatal stroke is a stroke that occurs while the baby is still in the womb or in the first 7 days of life. When the baby has a stroke in the first month after birth it is classified as a neonatal stroke. Other than this difference between the time periods that the stroke occurs, perinatal and neonatal strokes are the same.
What are the symptoms of a neonatal stroke?
The occurrence of a neonatal stroke frequently goes unnoticed for months or longer because the signs and physical symptoms can be difficult to detect. The symptoms of a stroke are particularly hard to identify in newborns. Seizures are the most common and most visible symptom of a neonatal stroke.
Neonatal Stroke Verdicts & Settlements
Summarized below are report settlements and verdicts in medical malpractice cases involving neonatal strokes.
- Plaintiff v. OB/GYN (Massachusetts 2016) $1.1 million: Baby suffered neonatal stroke shortly after birth and parents sued the OB/GYN for failing to diagnose and treat a maternal infection prior to and during labor. There was a significant dispute as to whether the neonatal stroke was related to the infection. The baby suffered extensive brain damage and developmental delays. Case was settled for $1.1 million.
- Leavy v. Connecticut (Connecticut 2015) $3 million: Plaintiff sued hospital claiming that doctors failed to recognize signs of fetal distress and perform emergency C-section delivery in response. As a result, baby allegedly suffered a stroke during delivery leaving him limp on one side of his body and with major cognitive impairments. Just prior to trial the parties agreed to settle for $3 million.
- Sullivan v. Wright (New York 2009) $1.9 million: A week prior to giving birth the mother experienced a “rupture” and fluid release and went to see her OB/GYN about it. Tests were negative but the doctor observed clinical indications of possible infection. The doctor chose not to do anything at that time. A week later the mother was in labor with a high fever and it was discovered that she had chorioamnionitis – an infection of the amniotic membrane. The stroke resulted in moderate developmental delays and moderate physical disabilities, notably hypotonia. The mother sued the OB/GYN for negligently failing to diagnose and treat her chorioamnionitis infection earlier. The mother alleged that the infection proximately caused the neonatal stroke after birth. The doctor insisted that there was no breach of the standard of care. Just prior to trial the case was settled for $1.9 million.
Defense lawyers typically argue that the stroke happened before the labor and delivery which makes the obstetrician less likely to be responsible for the harm done to the child.
Birth Injury Attorneys at Miller & Zois
If your baby suffered a neonatal stroke it may have been the result of poor medical care. The birth injury lawyers at Miller & Zois can investigate your case and tell you whether you might be entitled to financial compensation. Call now at 800-553-8082 or get a free online consultation.