Fetal Stroke & How Your Doctor Can Detect It

A stroke occurs when the blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. The brain requires a continuous flow of blood to receive oxygen, and if this is cut off for even a short time, the cells will begin to die. Brain cell death occurs within minutes of oxygen deprivation. Babies still in the womb and newborns may be at risk of suffering fetal or perinatal stroke if they experience a lack of oxygen to the brain for any reason, though trauma and hypoxic-anoxic injury are the two most common causes.

Early detection and immediate treatment is crucial when fetal stroke occurs. This is necessary not only to limit the damage caused by this initial stroke but to prevent ongoing seizures from occurring, which will cause additional brain damage and may even lead to a loss of life.

Doctors should know the signs of fetal stroke and how to detect this serious condition, including:

  • Signs of fetal distress, such as decreased fetal movement, cramping, vaginal bleeding, decreased or irregular heartrate, or breathing abnormalities may be indicators of a stroke.
  • Seizures, which in a newborn may appear as a rhythmic twitching of the face/arm/leg or pauses in breathing, along with staring.

Continuous electroencephalogram (EEG) monitoring is an ideal method of monitoring a newborn who has already suffered a stroke, because seizure activity on an EEG is often the only sign of stroke.

To diagnose a fetal stroke, your doctor may use the following tests:

  • Head Computed Tomography (CT) scan
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) scan
  • Ultrasound
  • EEG
  • Electrocardiogram (ECG or EKG)
  • Blood samples

Once fetal stroke is diagnosed, immediate treatment is required. Seizure treatment may be administered to prevent additional seizures, which may cause additional brain damage. Hypothermia therapy (head cooling or whole body cooling) may be used to prevent more brain cells from dying. Your doctor should take the necessary steps – quickly – to treat fetal stroke if further injury is to be avoided.

For more information on fetal stroke and any other birth injury, call Tom Rhodes Law Firm at (505) 544-4088. We are here to help.