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Brain Injury in Babies: White vs. Grey Matter


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Brain injuries are some of the scariest to face due to their potential for permanent damage and the long-term results that can be difficult to predict.  Signs of brain damage, including irregular MRI scans, are all too common among newborns.  Brain injury during birth can result in lifelong disability and make parenting much more time-consuming and costly.  Here’s what you should know if your baby is showing signs of brain damage.

How Brain Injuries Happen During Birth

Brain injury during birth is typically caused by a lack of oxygen during the labor process.  Your doctor should be aware of potential dangers thanks to the scans and tests that take place during the pregnancy process.  If your baby shows signs of brain damage that were not present during pregnancy, they may have suffered an injury during labor.  Common causes of injury that take place during or right after birth include:

  • Improper use of forceps or vacuums during delivery

  • The umbilical cord wrapping around the baby’s neck

  • Rushed delivery

  • Extremely low blood pressure in the mother during birth

  • Birth delays due to early placenta separation and subsequent birth canal impediment

Doctor mistakes can have unfortunate effects, and this is one of the biggest.  Brain damage can be difficult to determine in newborns, so if you experienced any of these issues during birth, it may be worth requesting an MRI for your little one.

White Matter Injuries Cause Reduced Function

White matter damage has long been a concern among premature babies, but full-term babies sometimes also display the damage—and its related symptoms.  One of white matter’s functions is to protect brain cells (or the grey matter of the brain); without this protection, those cells die.  However, white matter cells more often suffer damage that causes reduced and inconsistent function.  Scientists believe that the increased severity of white matter damages may relate to the greater difficulty of adapting to inconsistent information over adapting to no information.

Depending on the location of the damage, some babies do not see any long-term effects.  However, damage to vital areas of the brain can cause life-long developmental disabilities such as multiple sclerosis (MS).  As children age, they are likely to display difficulties with language and self-expression.  White matter irregularities are also linked to the development of autism, ADHD, and emotional outbursts.

Grey Matter Injuries May Be Easier to Overcome

At their most severe, grey matter injuries may result in death.  Babies who do survive extensive damage are likely to develop Cerebral Palsy or may have slower motor skills development.  While some adjust and lead a fairly unaffected life, others may not develop walking skills at the pace of other infants, if at all.  Infants may also have trouble feeding and communicating.

The cognitive difficulties caused by grey matter injury are similar to those caused by white matter injury because the two structures of the brain are so closely connected.  For instance, MS, once thought to only occur after white matter injuries, has now been linked to grey matter abnormalities.  However, injuries to grey matter may be treatable, unlike those to white matter.  Specialized physical therapy can help rewire the brain to work around cell death.

What to Do if Grey or White Matter Injuries Occur

Brain injury is serious, and quick action may be necessary to get your baby the care it needs.  If you experience any of the following symptoms, you may want to ask your doctor about testing for brain injury:

  • Excessive crying or fussiness

  • Refusing food

  • Small skull with a large forehead

  • Difficulty focusing eyes

  • Misshapen eyes, nose, mouth, or other features

  • Slow development of motor skills, including crawling.

If your baby is showing signs of potential brain injury, it’s important to figure out what caused them as soon as possible.  Brain injury can have devastating long-term effects that can make parenting more difficult than you’d planned, and run up hundreds of thousands of dollars in medical bills.

Call Goodman Acker P.C. for Brain Injuries at Birth

If you think a doctor’s mistakes or flawed choices may have led to your child’s brain injury, you may be able to sue for medical malpractice.  Brain damage will have lifelong effects on both you and your child.  You may be eligible for compensation to cover medical bills, lost wages, and the other costs of raising a child with disabilities.

Do you have questions about fault in a brain injury case?  Contact us online or call (248) 286-8100 to schedule a free consultation.