A photograph of a model brain, which is the the organ damaged by Hypoxic Ischemic Encephalopathy (HIE)

What is Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy (HIE)?

What is Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy (HIE)?

Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy (HIE) is a type of brain damage that occurs when an infant’s brain doesn’t receive enough oxygen. It’s most common during birth, when it’s sometimes called ‘asphyxia’ or ‘birth asphyxia’.

What causes Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy?

HIE occurs when a blood flow restriction results in an insufficient amount of oxygen reaching an infant’s brain. The name describes the condition:

  • Hypoxia is a deprivation of oxygen supply to the tissue.
  • Ischaemia is an inadequate blood supply to a part of the body.
  • Encephalopathy is a disease which affects the functioning of the brain.

The cause of the blood restriction – that leads to the oxygen deprivation – which causes HIE can sometimes be impossible to pinpoint. But some of the more common causes are:

  • Placental abruption
  • Umbilical cord-prolapse
  • Uterine rupture
  • Shoulder dystocia

Medical negligence can also cause or contribute to HIE. If you think your child has suffered HIE due to medical negligence, you should contact us. We will advise you for free, whether we can investigate your claim on a no win no fee basis.

How is Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy treated?

Depending on the severity of HIE, babies may be admitted to a neonatal intensive care unit. Treatment can come in the form of one, or a combination of:

  • Cooling – lowering the body temperature to 33.5 degrees for 72 hours attempts to limit any brain injury
  • Ventilation – to help with breathing
  • Inotropes – to increase blood pressure
  • Monitoring – to ensure the baby is responding to treatment and identify any seizures

What are the consequences of Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy?

Lack of oxygen can lead to brain injury and in some cases, death.

There are many factors which play a role in the severity of HIE. The consequences can range anywhere from mild to severe. Some babies will recover without any lasting effects (particularly those who had a mild brain injury).

Damage to the brain can impact any organ though, and other possible effects include:

What does Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy mean for my child’s future?

Because the severity of HIE varies so much, the impact it can have on a child also differs vastly. The extent of the impact is generally not known until a baby reaches three to four years of age.

Where Can I Get Information and Support for Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy?


The nature of HIE means that medical support is usually offered soon after it happens. Sometimes treatment will need to continue for months, or even years, to ensure an optimal recovery .

If you’re not happy with the treatment being provided, the NHS have a complaints procedure. But in some cases, legal advice might be more appropriate.


If you have greater concerns, and think the treatment is not only insufficient, but negligent; or if you think that HIE might have been caused by medical negligence related to the birth, in the first place, you should seek legal advice.

The consequences of HIE can be significant, so you might be able to claim compensation, to try and put things right, and get the financial support you need.

Pryers are experts in birth injury claims. You can call us on 01904 556600 or email us and we will advise you if we can help you make a claim on a no win no fee basis.

Charities and Other Support

There are several charities who support those affected by HIE:




The Birth Trauma Association

Additionally, parent groups and smaller charities offer support and information locally.

When is Hypoxic Ischaemic Encephalopathy Awareness Day?

HIE Awareness Day is 4th April, every year. It aims to make people aware of the serious condition, which many are not aware of.