Understanding Brain Bleeds in Babies

For new parents, discovering that your baby has an illness or injury can be devastating. When it comes to brain bleeds, such a discovery can quickly become terrifying or overwhelming with fear of long-term complications. One of the best tools for parents is understanding brain bleeds in babies, their causes, and treatment options. Brain bleeds can range from small bleeds requiring little treatment, to severe bleeds resulting in compression or tissue damage requiring immediate medical intervention.

There are different medical terms for brain bleeds, depending on the location of the bleed and the cause. Common terms include intracranial hemorrhage, intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH), and subarachnoid hemorrhage. A brief summary of the differences between these terms is as follows:

  • Intracranial hemorrhages occur when there is bleeding between the skull and brain, or in any part of the brain itself.
  • Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) occurs when there is bleeding into the ventricles of the brain.
  • Subarachnoid hemorrhages occur when there is bleeding in the space between the membrane surrounding the brain and the brain itself.

Causes of Brain Bleeds in Babies

Several factors can contribute to brain bleeds in babies. Some of the most common causes of brain bleeds are:

  • Head injury or trauma before or during birth
  • Blood vessel abnormalities, such as malformation, aneurysm, or weakened blood vessels
  • Bleeding or blood disorders

Symptoms of Brain Bleeds in Babies

Common symptoms associated with brain bleeds include:

  • Fever
  • Stiff neck
  • Seizures
  • Dizziness
  • Severe headache
  • Confusion
  • Mood or personality changes
  • Trouble with movement, vision, or speech

Diagnosis and Treatment of Brain Bleeds in Babies

A brain bleed in a newborn can be more difficult to diagnose based on symptoms than in older children or adults. To diagnose brain bleeds in babies, doctors may perform specific tests to assess the health of the brain. Common tests include:

  • Angiography: During this test, a thin tube is inserted into the blood vessels leading directly to the brain, and then contrast dye is inserted. Photographs are then taken while the contrast illuminates the blood vessels.
  • MRI/CT Scan: These common tests provide detailed pictures of the workings of the brain.
  • Transcranial Doppler (TCD): Using sound waves to measure blood flow, the TCD test is non-invasive and provides a picture of the overall blood flow throughout the brain.

Treating brain bleeds in babies depends largely on the size of the bleed, the cause, and other health factors. Treatment options may include repair of abnormal blood vessels, including catheter, glue, balloon, or coil treatment. For more severe bleeds, surgery may also be required.