Keeping Your Family Healthy And Happy

3 Types of Brain Injuries That Are Common in Preemies

Babies are considered premature when they are born before the beginning of the 37th week of pregnancy. Babies born before the 25th week of gestation are considered extremely premature. No matter how early a baby is born, they are at a higher risk of having certain health complications, including an injury to the brain.

Here are three types of brain injuries that are common for preemies.  

1. Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH)

This type of brain injury is common for premature babies who weigh below 3 pounds, 5 ounces (1,500 grams). An intraventricular hemorrhage occurs when the veins in the brain rupture, causing blood to pool in the brain. This, in turn, damages the nerve cells in the brain. Some of the symptoms associated with IVH include:

  • Low levels of red blood cells
  • Swelling soft spots on the head
  • Seizures
  • Weak suck while feeding

An IVH is assigned a certain grade from 1 to 4. The higher the grade, the more serious the brain damage.

2. Periventricular leukomalacia (PVL)

This type of brain injury is especially common in low birthweight premature babies. When babies weigh less than 5 pounds, 8 ounces, they are considered to have a low birthweight. PVL damages the white matter of the brain and is caused when the ventricles of the brain don't get enough blood. Some of the most common symptoms include:

  • Spastic muscles that are resistant to movement
  • Muscles that are either tight or weak
  • Trouble with vision and eye movement
  • Developmental delays

For premature babies born with PVL, the prognosis depends upon how severely the brain is damaged.

3. Hydrocephalus

When excess fluid accumulates in the brain, it is called hydrocephalus. While the exact cause of this condition is unknown, it can occur with IVH. Some of the most common symptoms associated with hydrocephalus include:

  • Eyes that look downward
  • Head size that's larger than normal
  • Seizures
  • Vomiting

Unlike IVH and PVL, this condition can be treated by inserting a shunt and removing fluid from the brain. Even with treatment, however, about 75% of babies born with hydrocephalus will have a motor disability of some type and others will have a learning disability.

Because these types of brain injuries are common for premature babies, it is not unusual for a preemie to undergo magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) or ultrasound imaging of the head shortly after birth. These tests are often repeated as damage to the brain doesn't always show up right away. For example, it could take up to 30 days for PVL to show up on a brain-imaging test or MRI. It's important to get a consultation as soon as possible, so contact an imaging center, such as DirectImaging, to ask more information.