Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn, more commonly called PPHN, is a potentially fatal birth defect affecting the function of the heart and lungs. When a baby is still in the womb, the course of circulation is different than it is after the baby is born. Because the placenta supplies the baby with oxygen through the umbilical cord, the lungs are not needed to exchange oxygen during fetal development. As a result, the baby’s flow of blood bypasses the lungs, and the pulmonary artery sends blood directly back to the heart through a fetal blood vessel called the ductus arteriosus. Once a baby is born however, the ductus arteriosus closes and blood returning to the heart from the body can be pumped into the lungs, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. In babies born with PPHN however, the circulatory system fails to make this change, the fetal blood vessel stays open, and the circulation continues to bypass the lungs. As a result, even though the baby can breathe, oxygen in the breathed air will not reach the bloodstream to be distributed to the rest of the body. Although the cause of PPHN is usually unknown, recent studies have suggested that women who take certain pharmaceutical drugs while pregnant, namely antidepressants, may have an increased risk of giving birth to babies with major birth defects like PPHN. If your baby was born with PPHN and you believe a pharmaceutical drug to be the cause, consult a birth defect attorney to discuss your options for legal recourse.
Because PPHN prevents a newborn’s body from getting the oxygen it needs, the symptoms associated with the birth defect typically include:
Sometimes when a baby is born with PPHN, the examining doctor will heart a heart murmur, an extra or abnormal heart sound. The baby may also have low oxygen levels, even while receiving 100% oxygen.
PPHN is a serious birth defect requiring immediate treatment and intensive monitoring. PPHN treatment may involve oxygen administration, assisted ventilation, high frequency oscillatory ventilation, and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. Some instances of PPHN are treatable and may even be reversible, while others are associated with a poor survival rate. Unfortunately, even with prompt diagnosis and treatment, babies born with PPHN may continue to distribute an inadequate amount of oxygen to the body’s tissues, possibly causing seizures, shock, heart failure, kidney failure, brain hemorrhage, multiple organ damage and death.
Although PPHN is not common, it can severely compromise a newborn’s health and can have long-term complications, possibly leading to death. If you or a loved one has suffered from PPHN and you believe a pharmaceutical drug to be the cause, contact a birth defect attorney for legal help. You may have grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit against the medical professional responsible for your care. Medical errors on the part of healthcare providers can have devastating long-term consequences. If you believe you have been the victim of a medical mistake, contact a birth defect lawyer to represent your case.