Birth asphyxia (specifically known as perinatal asphyxia) is a medical condition that arises when there is a lack of oxygen to a new-born infant that lasts long enough during the birth process to cause physical harm, usually to the brain. Hypoxic (a region of the body that is deprived of adequate oxygen supply at the tissue level) damage can occur to most of the infant's organs (heart, lungs, liver, gut, kidneys), but brain damage is of most concern and perhaps the least likely to quickly or completely heal. One million babies die every year suffering from brain asphyxia, however this figure will soon decline dramatically due to the new introduction to the treatments available include cooling, which was thought of after 15 years of medical research.
Neonatal encephalopathy is the state the baby is in when abnormal neurological function in the first few days of life as an infant (commonly caused by birth asphyxia) show up with signs such as reduced level of consciousness, seizures, difficulty initiating and maintaining respiration, depression of tone and reflexes. During the 1950s, a system known as SARNAT staging was used to measure the level of consciousness of the a patient (in this instance, a baby) to determine whether the baby was showing signs of neonatal encephalopathy. Today, we use an EEG (an electroencephalogram) which provides health professionals a very accurate representation (in comparison to the SARNAT) of the activity in the brain so that it is clearer for them to come up with a solution to relieve the symptoms as soon as it arises to decrease the amount of potential damage to the brain.
By cooling the baby by 3℃ for 6 hours for 3 consecutive days, it has proven to:
Gases such as Xenon and Argon have been proven to be neuroprotective agents to protect the brain while acting on the mitochondria of the cells to reduce the metabolic rate and reducing cell death while the baby is healing from the damage caused from a lack of oxygen to the brain. These gases are inhaled by the baby along with other gases while being treated. However, Argon is much better as an agent than Xenon as it is seen as too expensive and too toxic if too much has been inhaled. Along with this, health professionals inject a hormone called erythropoietin (after the use of the noble gases) into the baby’s veins as it increases the rate of production of red blood cells in response to falling levels of oxygen in the tissues.