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Doctors urged to do more to ID causes of newborn brain injury

What causes brain injury in newborns? That's a question that doctors are being challenged to answer by a couple of leading U.S. obstetrician and pediatric professional groups.

The challenge comes in the form of a new set of guidelines issued recently by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Academy of Pediatrics. What they recommend is for doctors to make every effort in every case of neonatal encephalopathy to determine exactly what caused or contributed to the condition. 

Neonatal encephalopathy is the formal term doctors use to describe newborn brain injury or disorder. The conditions that are associated with such a diagnosis can include cerebral palsy, developmental disorders, and more; many of which may make a child eligible for Social Security disability or Supplemental Security Income benefits. An attorney with experience in such matters may be able to help obtain those benefits.

The new guidelines update ones that were previously issued in 2003.Those earlier guidelines presumed that a brain injured child suffered some cutoff of oxygen during labor or delivery and focused on finding that cause.

The new instructions broaden the possible issues to include not just oxygen deprivation, but a mother's medical history, issues throughout her pregnancy or with the placenta, genetic conditions and infections. The head of the group that wrote the new rules says that by doing a better job of nailing down the causes, it may be possible to find ways to prevent neonatal encephalopathy from occurring.

While some might be inclined to view the new guidance as little more than an attempt to arm doctors against possible birth injury lawsuits, experts disagree. They say the new document reflects advances that have been made in recent years in imaging techniques for identifying when an injury occurred and how severe it may be, and in treatment of neonatal encephalopathy.

The guidelines also suggest that pediatricians need to be more proactive in identifying brain injury cases in infants and getting them into proper treatments.

Source: HealthDay, "Spotting Cause of Newborn Brain Injury Could Aid Prevention, Report Says," Mary Elizabeth Dallas, April 3, 2014

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