Neonatal Encephalopathy: Beyond Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy

Neoreviews. 2021 Mar;22(3):e148-e162. doi: 10.1542/neo.22-3-e148.


Neonatal encephalopathy is a clinical syndrome of neurologic dysfunction that encompasses a broad spectrum of symptoms and severity, from mild irritability and feeding difficulties to coma and seizures. It is vital for providers to understand that the term "neonatal encephalopathy" is simply a description of the neonate's neurologic status that is agnostic to the underlying etiology. Unfortunately, hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE) has become common vernacular to describe any neonate with encephalopathy, but this can be misleading. The term should not be used unless there is evidence of perinatal asphyxia as the primary cause of encephalopathy. HIE is a common cause of neonatal encephalopathy; the differential diagnosis also includes conditions with infectious, vascular, epileptic, genetic/congenital, metabolic, and toxic causes. Because neonatal encephalopathy is estimated to affect 2 to 6 per 1,000 term births, of which HIE accounts for approximately 1.5 per 1,000 term births, (1)(2)(3)(4)(5)(6) neonatologists and child neurologists should familiarize themselves with the evaluation, diagnosis, and treatment of the diverse causes of neonatal encephalopathy. This review begins by discussing HIE, but also helps practitioners extend the differential to consider the broad array of other causes of neonatal encephalopathy, emphasizing the epidemiology, neurologic presentations, diagnostics, imaging findings, and therapeutic strategies for each potential category.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Asphyxia Neonatorum* / complications
  • Asphyxia Neonatorum* / diagnosis
  • Asphyxia Neonatorum* / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / complications
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / diagnosis
  • Hypoxia-Ischemia, Brain* / epidemiology
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Infant, Newborn, Diseases*
  • Pregnancy
  • Seizures