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Neurological Disorders in Newborns

At Children’s Health, our team of experts from different specialties can evaluate and treat your baby for many different neurological conditions. We are the only hospital in North Texas with neonatal neurologists that specialize in conditions that affect the brains of newborns.

What are Neurological Disorders in Newborns?

Neurological conditions in newborns involve problems with the nervous system, which controls functions like movement and feeding. These disorders can be serious, with long-term side effects.

Some neurological conditions, like spina bifida, are present when a baby is born (congenital). Others stem from birth injuries, such as a loss of blood and oxygen to the brain. Some children benefit from a therapy given right after birth to prevent further brain damage. Whatever your child needs, our team has deep experience caring for newborns with these conditions and does everything they can to help your child have a healthier future.

What are the different types of Neurological Disorders in Newborns?

Newborns may experience a wide variety of neurological disorders, including:

Seizures/epilepsy

In seizures and epilepsy, the electrical signaling in the brain doesn’t work correctly. Babies experiencing a seizure or epilepsy may have sudden changes in movement or in behavior.

Neonatal encephalopathy

This is a broad term for problems with the brain in newborns. Neurological function is disturbed leading to changes in behavior, feeding and movement.

The most common type of neonatal encephalopathy is hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE). HIE is a birth injury that happens when a baby doesn’t get enough oxygen and blood to the brain during delivery. It is also called birth or perinatal asphyxia. When the brain doesn’t get enough oxygen and blood, it can cause anything from mild health issues to severe disability.

Abnormal muscle tone

With abnormal muscle tone, the arms and legs are limp (hypotonia) or the muscles can be stiff (hypertonia).

Neural tube defects

In these conditions, the brain, spine or spinal cord don't develop properly. Spina bifida is the most common neural tube defect.

Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL)

PVL is usually associated with complications of prematurity leading to brain injury. The symptoms may vary widely, but children will most commonly experience motor disability. This condition is not expected to worsen over time.

Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH)

IVH involves bleeding into the fluid-filled areas of the brain (ventricles). It is more common in newborns born very early.

What are the signs and symptoms of Neurological Disorders in Newborns?

The different types of neurological disorders in infants have different symptoms. Common signs and symptoms include:

  • Seizures or abnormal movements
  • Developmental delays
  • Difficulty with physical mobility
  • Problems with feeding
  • Irritability, lethargy, high or low alertness

How are Neurological Disorders in Newborns diagnosed?

Our team performs a complete neurological exam to look at how a baby moves and responds. We will also look at muscle tone and check your baby’s reflexes. We may use an ultrasound or MRI, which allows us to see inside your child’s brain and spine to better understand what might be causing their symptoms. Our team also may use an electroencephalogram (EEG) to monitor the electrical activity in your baby’s brain.

What causes Neurological Disorders in Newborns?

These disorders have different causes, including:

  • Injury during delivery, including loss of oxygen and blood (asphyxia)
  • A build-up of fluid in the brain (hydrocephalus)
  • Excess bleeding in the brain (hemorrhage)
  • Viral or bacterial infection during pregnancy, delivery or after birth
  • Some disorders are present at birth (congenital)
  • Certain genetic conditions are associated with neurological disorders
  • Use of alcohol or drugs during pregnancy

How are Neurological Disorders in Newborns treated?

Treatment of neurological disorders in newborns depends on each individual baby’s diagnosis. For newborns with seizures/epilepsy, medications are used to control the seizures. Some forms of epilepsy may require more than one medication to control the seizures. For newborns with hydrocephalus (excessive build-up of fluid in the brain), surgery may be required.

Physical, occupational and speech therapies are very important in helping a baby’s brain and body develop. Routine therapies improve long-term developmental outcomes.

For newborns with moderate or severe hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), it’s important to protect their brain from further injury. We offer a clinical treatment called therapeutic hypothermia, where a baby’s body temperature is moderately reduced to prevent additional injury to the brain. This therapy can improve long-term neurological outcomes.

Neurological Disorders in Newborns Doctors and Providers

Your child’s team will provide specialized care for your baby to address their varying needs.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • What is the long-term outcome for my baby going to be?

    No one can predict with certainty how a baby will develop. However, our team has deep experience caring for children with neurological disorders, and we will do everything we can to help your family understand what to expect in the short term and the long term.

  • Will my baby have cerebral palsy?

    Cerebral palsy includes a wide range of disabilities related to any injury around the time of birth. If your family is concerned about whether a birth injury is going to cause long-term problems like cerebral palsy, we will talk with you about your concerns and about what we expect to happen.

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