Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH) In Newborns: Causes And Treatment

Intraventricular Hemorrhage (IVH) In Newborns Causes And Treatment

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Intraventricular hemorrhage (IVH) is bleeding in or around the brain’s ventricles, which are the cerebrospinal fluid-containing spaces of the brain (1). This condition is more common in premature babies. The lesser the gestational age, the higher the chances of IVH in babies.

IVH is rarely present at birth and occurs in the first several days of life (2). The bleeding in the brain can put immense pressure on the nerve cells, causing damage. Severe and sustained damage to the nerves and brain tissues may lead to brain injury (3).

Read this post to know more about the causes, risks, signs, diagnosis, and management of IVH in babies.

Causes And Risk Factors Of IVH In Babies

The exact cause of IVH in babies is unknown. However, the bleeding may occur because a premature baby’s blood vessels are fragile and may rupture easily (4).

The following factors may put a baby at a higher risk of developing IVH (1) (4).

  • Premature birth
  • Very low birth weight (birth weight lesser than 3.5 pounds)
  • Insufficient or lack of oxygen supply to the brain due to difficult or traumatic delivery
  • Complications during delivery
  • Respiratory problems
  • Genetic anomalies or birth defects
  • Blood clotting problems
  • Prenatal infection
  • Maternal high blood pressure

Some babies may develop IVH without showing any risk factors. Shaken baby syndrome and head injury could be risk factors for IVH in healthy newborns and older babies.

Different Grades Of IVH

IVH is graded into four categories based on the severity and extent of bleeding in the brain (1).

  • Grade one: Bleeding occurs in a small area/section of the ventricles.
  • Grade two: Bleeding occurs inside the ventricles.
  • Grade three: Ventricles enlarge due to the accumulated blood.
  • Grade four: Bleeding gets around the ventricles and into the brain tissue.

Grade one and two are most common and most often do not lead to any complications. Grade three and four may lead to long-term brain injury and complications, such as infection and hydrocephalus.

Signs Of IVH In Babies

The following are the most common signs of IVH in babies (3) (4).

  • Apnea (pauses in breathing)
  • Blood pressure fluctuations
  • Reduced muscle tone
  • Poor reflexes
  • Lethargy and excess sleepiness
  • Bradycardia (slow heart rate)
  • Pale or bluish skin discoloration (cyanosis)
  • Weak sucking
  • High-pitched cry
  • Seizures
  • Bulging fontanelles (soft spots)
  • Anemia
  • Abnormal eye movement
  • Stupor and coma in severe cases

Diagnosis Of IVH

The baby’s healthcare provider will assess the detailed medical history, including maternal prenatal medical history, and examine the symptoms. The baby could be prescribed a head ultrasound. An ultrasound uses sound waves to take pictures of the internal structures of the baby’s brain.

Premature babies born at 30 weeks or earlier may have an ultrasound screening for IVH. Babies born between 30-34 weeks may be advised an ultrasound if they show IVH symptoms. The healthcare provider may suggest multiple ultrasounds based on the findings of previous ultrasounds (4) (5).

Treatment For IVH In Babies

There is no specific treatment for IVH in babies except treating the complications and keeping the baby stable. Blood transfusions may be performed to improve blood count and blood pressure. Oxygen and fluid support may also be provided.

If there is fluid accumulation in the brain, the doctors may perform a spinal tap to drain the cerebrospinal fluid and relieve the pressure (5). However, surgery is rarely needed because babies’ skulls are flexible and can tolerate some extra fluid (4).

About 90% of IVH cases are mild in babies and resolve with little or no problems. The body absorbs the blood in mild cases, and the follow-up head ultrasounds turn out normal. Babies who recover develop similar to any other baby without IVH (6).

Prognosis Of IVH In Babies

The prognosis depends on how premature the baby was at birth and the severity of the hemorrhage. It also depends on the presence of complications, such as hydrocephalus. IVH is fatal in up to one-third of babies with severe bleeding (5).

Babies with low grades of IVH have similar outcomes as babies without IVH (2). Babies with higher grades of IVH may experience complications and their effects, such as developmental delays and motor problems. Such babies may require long-term monitoring to detect developmental problems early.

Prevention Of IVH In Babies

It is not entirely possible to prevent IVH. The following precautionary measures may help reduce its risk (4) (5).

  • Pregnant women at a high risk of premature delivery should be administered corticosteroids between weeks 24 and 34. It may help reduce the baby’s risk of developing IVH.
  • Women on medications that may cause bleeding problems should be administered supplemental vitamin K before delivery to help with better blood clotting.
  • Umbilical cords of premature infants should not be clamped immediately; it may help in reducing the risk of IVH development.
  • Deliveries of premature babies should be planned in hospitals with NICU facilities. Immediate access to NICU could lower the risk of IVH.

IVH is usually most common in premature babies and babies with low birth weight. If you are at risk of premature delivery, discuss it extensively with your doctor. Most babies have mild IVH, and it gets cured without causing any long-term problems. If you notice any signs of IVH in your baby, talk to the healthcare provider.


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1. Intraventricular Hemorrhage in Babies; Stanford Children’s Health
2. Intraventricular Hemorrhage; Johns Hopkins medicine
3. Intraventricular Hemorrhage; Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
4. Intraventricular Hemorrhage in Babies; University of Rochester Medical Center
5. Intraventricular hemorrhage of the newbornn; U.S. National Library of Medicine
6. Intraventricular hemorrhage in premature babies; Children’s Minnesota