Hypoxic-ischemic brain injury: imaging findings from birth to adulthood

Radiographics. 2008 Mar-Apr;28(2):417-39; quiz 617. doi: 10.1148/rg.282075066.


Global hypoxic-ischemic injury (HII) to the brain is a significant cause of mortality and severe neurologic disability. Imaging plays an important role in the diagnosis and treatment of HII, helping guide case management in the acute setting and providing valuable information about long-term prognosis. Appropriate radiologic diagnosis of HII requires familiarity with the many imaging manifestations of this injury. Factors such as brain maturity, duration and severity of insult, and type and timing of imaging studies all influence findings in HII. Severe hypoxia-ischemia in both preterm and term neonates preferentially damages the deep gray matter, with perirolandic involvement more frequently observed in the latter age group. Less profound insults result in intraventricular hemorrhages and periventricular white matter injury in preterm neonates and parasagittal watershed territory infarcts in term neonates. In the postnatal period, severe insults result in diffuse gray matter injury, with relative sparing of the perirolandic cortex and the structures supplied by the posterior circulation. Profound hypoxia-ischemia in older children and adults affects the deep gray matter nuclei, cortices, hippocampi, and cerebellum. Because findings at conventional imaging may be subtle or even absent in the acute setting, particularly in neonates, magnetic resonance spectroscopy can help establish the diagnosis of HII. Promising new neuroprotective strategies designed to limit the extent of brain injury caused by hypoxia-ischemia are currently under investigation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Diagnostic Imaging*
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain / diagnosis*
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain / physiopathology
  • Image Enhancement
  • Infant
  • Infant, Newborn