Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy
(Cerebral Hypoxia; HIE)
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) is a condition in which the brain does not receive enough oxygen.
HIE can be fatal. Brain cells can begin dying after 4 minutes without oxygen.
Blood Supply to the Brain
There are a variety of causes of HIE. Any injury and many health conditions can cause a lack of oxygen to the brain. Some common causes are:
- Respiratory failure
- Blocked or ruptured blood vessel
- Carbon monoxide or cyanide poisoning
- Drug overdose
- Lack of oxygen due to smoke inhalation
- Extremely low blood pressure
- Cardiac arrest
- High altitudes
- Compression or injury to the trachea that reduces or stops breathing
- Complications from general anesthesia
- Diseases or drugs that cause paralysis of the respiratory organs or muscles, such as myasthenia gravis and Guillain-Barre syndrome
Any injury, complication, or condition that causes the brain to have a reduction in blood flow and oxygen is a risk factor for HIE.
- Difficulty paying attention
- Poor judgment
- Poor coordination
- Intense emotions
- Extreme drowsiness
Severe oxygen deprivation:
- Loss of consciousness
- Blue-colored skin or lips
- Difficulty breathing
A physical exam will be done. Typically, the history is the most important factor in making the diagnosis.
Your bodily fluids may need to be tested. This can be done with blood tests.
Images may need to be taken of your bodily structures. This can be done with:
Your heart and brain activity may be tested. This can be done with:
Treatment depends on the underlying cause of the condition, as well as the severity of the damage to the brain. Treatment options include:
- Life-sustaining treatment—If brain function has stopped, but damage is not yet extensive, life-sustaining treatment is given.
- Mechanical ventilation —This may be used if you are unable to breathe without assistance.
- Treatments for the circulatory system—Treatments are given to maintain heart function and control blood pressure.
- Seizure control—Medication and general anesthesia may be given to control seizures.
- Cooling—Hypoxic brain damage is often caused by heat. Cooling blankets or other means of cooling may be applied to reduce the body's temperature.
- Hyperbaric oxygen treatment —This treatment is used in cases of carbon monoxide poisoning.
In most cases, HIE is sudden and cannot be prevented. CPR may be given to prevent significant or long-term brain damage after the oxygen supply has been reduced.
Brain Injury Association of America
National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke
Ontario Brain Injury Association
Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). Neurographics website. Available at: http://www.asnr.org/neurographics/2/1/1/4.shtml. Accessed August 1, 2013.
Itoo BA, Al-Hawsawi ZM, Khan AH. Hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy. Incidence and risk factors in North Western Saudi Arabia. Saudi Medical Journal. 2003;24(2):147-153.
MacDonald S. Brain injury secondary to carotid intervention. J Endovasc Ther. 2007;14(2):219-231.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Rimas Lukas, MD
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.