Foetuses and babies who for various reasons suffer from hypoxia and insufficient blood circulation suffer from asphyxia. Asphyxia may occur before labour, during birth or after birth. In asphyxia, the baby's entire body suffers from falling oxygen levels, carbon dioxide builds up in the body, energy reserves are reduced and the pH value (acidity) falls.
If there are signs of asphyxia, the birth may need to be accelerated using assistive methods such as vacuum extraction, forceps delivery and caesarian. After severe asphyxia, the baby may appear lifeless and needs active help with breathing and sometimes also cardiopulmonary resuscitation and medication.
The brain is the most sensitive organ during and after an episode of asphyxia, but other organs can be affected as well, especially the kidneys, liver and heart. More severe cases, occurring in infants during the first few days of life, may have an impact on brain function, giving rise to hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). The symptoms of HIE are impaired alertness, weak reflexes and seizures (cramps).
The treatment of HIE involves intensive care to support the baby's breathing and circulation, detecting and treating seizures, and ensuring that the baby receives sufficient nutrition. If the symptoms of HIE are moderate to severe, hypothermia therapy is used. With the help of a special cooling garment, the baby's body temperature is then reduced by 3–4 degrees, to 33.5°C, for 72 hours. The treatment is effective and significantly reduces the risk of permanent brain damage, so that most babies remain entirely healthy even after moderate to severe asphyxia.
Text: Kajsa Bohlin Blennow