According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), brain injuries are the leading cause of death or disabilities for children in the United States. Infants in particular are at a heightened risk for brain injuries as their skulls aren’t completely formed yet, making it easier for even the smallest accident or medical mistake to cause substantial, lifelong damage. If your baby suffers from brain damage, you may, understandably, have a lot of questions and concerns. The following questions are among the commonly asked questions in regards to baby brain damage, but keep in mind that if you feel your infant is sick or at risk, you should consult your physician immediately.
How Do Infants Get Brain Damage?
Infant brain damage can happen during pregnancy, during the delivery period, or after birth. During the delivery period and shortly after birth, head trauma is one of the leading reasons for baby brain damage. Since brain trauma during delivery is relatively rare, it almost always occurs due to medical negligence. Oxygen deprivation and loss of blood flow to the brain may lead to brain damage during delivery, especially if not caught and treated immediately. The most common reasons for oxygen deprivation include:
- Placental abruption
- Blocked airways
- Issues with the umbilical
Jaundice is also a cause of brain damage. Jaundice is often thought of as a minor disorder that will clear on its own with no severe side effects. However, if jaundice is left untreated, kernicterus may occur, a type of brain damage marked by extremely high levels of bilirubin.
In some instances, maternal infections can lead to brain damage, specifically preeclampsia and intrauterine infections. Infants are at risk for developing brain damage before birth if the infections are left untreated.
What Are The Symptoms of Infant Brain Damage?
Brain damage symptoms will vary according to each infant as well as the severity of the injury, but some of the most typical signs and symptoms include:
Although it’s normal for infants to cry and become fussy at times, inexplicable crying, fussiness, and an inability to be consoled my be a sign of brain damage. It’s important to note, however, that inexplicable crying and fussing alone without additional symptoms is generally not an indicator of brain damage.
Abnormal Physical Appearance
An infant with brain damage may have a protruding forehead, misshapen facial features, and a deformed spine.
Sensory problems may include the inability to focus the eyes, ringing in the ears, and sensitivity to light and sound.
Missed Milestones and Developmental Delays
Many infants with brain damage will miss important developmental delays such as not crawling, walking, talking, and sitting during the normal developmental period for their age.
What’s The Difference Between a Head Injury and a Brain Injury?
Head injuries and brain injuries aren’t always the same thing despite a common misconception. An infant can have a head injury that doesn’t necessarily lead to brain damage. For example, if a baby falls and bumps, bruises, or cuts his head, this doesn’t necessarily mean that brain damage has occurred. The head injury must impact the brain in some way before it’s considered brain damage.
How is Infant Brain Damage Diagnosed?
It’s more difficult to diagnose infant brain damage as opposed to older children and adults as the guidelines in determining brain damage is different. The Pediatric Emergency Care Applied Research Network (PECARN) developed a method that’s widely used in children under two years of age.
Infants are first assessed using the Glasgow Coma Scale, a test that determines an individual’s conscious state. The scale is graded from 0 to 15, and infants who score less than 15 will more than likely undergo a CT scan. If an infant scores under a 15, it doesn’t automatically mean that they aren’t candidates for a CT scan, but there are other criteria that must be met including the severity of the injury, physician experience, parental recommendation, and multiple physical symptoms.
A CT scan is a series of X-rays used in order for physicians to get a detailed image of the brain and uncover any bleeding in the brain, blood clots, contusions, and/or swelling. Magnetic resonance imagine (MRI) may also be used, which creates an in-depth view of the brain via magnets and radio waves. These tests, along with an assessment of symptom, helps physicians diagnose brain damage as well as its severity.
What Treatment Options Are Available for Infants?
There are a myriad of treatment options for infants who suffer from brain damage. Treatment will depend on how severe the damage is as well where the damage occurred in the brain.
Initial Stage of Treatment
If the baby is in immediate danger, initial treatment will consist of proactive measures in order to reduce swelling, bleeding, and to keep vital signs stable.
Surgery helps to close any open head wounds and to drain any bleeding. In addition, an intracranial monitor may be placed in the infants head in order to monitor brain activity.
Cognitive and Emotional Rehabilitation
Infants and brain who suffer from brain damage run a much higher risk of developing a series of cognitive disabilities as their brains are still forming. Rehabilitation treatment aim to help people with cognitive and emotional problems, including:
- Attention and concentration
- Listening skills
- Emotional outbursts
- Impulse reactions
In addition to emotional and cognitive rehabilitation, infant and children may need to undergo physical rehabilitation as well, which can include physical and occupational therapy. Physical rehabilitation aims to help with problems with:
- Nutrition and health
- Physical fitness and mobility
- Sleep patterns
- Posture, balance, and strength
- Sensory-motor functions
Medication for brain damage aims to help people control pain, cognitive difficulties, and emotional difficulties. When children who’ve suffered brain damage enter school, there is a risk of attention deficit problems, hyperactivity, seizures, and more. If brain damage leads to cerebral palsy, antispasmodic and anti-seizure medication can help children control seizures and spastic, uncontrollable movements. Medication for attention, focus, and concentration may include methylphenidate and bromocriptine.
In addition, as infants grow older, problems with aggression, anxiety, and depression may surface. Medications such as antidepressants and carbamamazapine may be prescribed.
Brain damaged children who are paralyzed and/or unable to feed themselves or take medication, an pump or IV may be used to administer medication and food.