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Birth Related Medical Malpractice

Some health conditions that occur during pregnancy can be harmful or fatal for mother and child if left untreated. That’s why expectant mothers need regular pre-natal care. If detected early, many health problems in pregnancy can be treated, reducing the risk of harm. But too often, doctors miss signs of a dangerous condition or make a misdiagnosis.

If you or your baby suffered an injury or illness due to a medical error, you may be entitled to compensation. Call Wapner Newman to request a free consultation: 1-800-LAW-6600.

Gestational diabetes

As many as 9.2 percent of pregnant women develop gestational diabetes, which is when the body doesn’t produce enough insulin, causing glucose to build up in the blood. When diagnosed or treated, it causes no harm to the baby.

When untreated or undetected, high glucose levels can harm the baby during development. Glucose can travel through the placenta to the fetus. The baby’s pancreas responds by producing extra insulin, and the excess energy is stored as fat, which can result in microsomia – a condition in which the baby is born carrying excess weight and has large shoulders. Infancy and childhood health problems associated with microsomia include:

  • Metabolic syndrome (high blood pressure, high blood sugar, excess fat in the midsection, or abnormal cholesterol levels)
  • Abnormally low blood sugar
  • Childhood obesity.

Another complication of microsomia is shoulder dystocia, which is when the shoulders are too large to pass naturally through the birth canal. In such cases, doctors may have to use forceps or other means to move the baby through the birth canal, which can result in fractures, brachial plexus injuries, nerve injuries, and death by asphyxiation, as well as injuries to the mother.

According to the Pennsylvania Patient Safety Authority, state healthcare providers reported 316 cases of shoulder dystocia between 2004 and 2008, and newborns suffered injuries in 39 percent of those cases. There are no tests that predict whether shoulder dystocia will occur during birth, but the patient safety authority says “intensive treatment of maternal diabetes during pregnancy” may lower the risk of microsomia and shoulder dystocia. And when a mother has developed gestational diabetes, and the fetus weighs more than 4,500 g. (9.9 pounds), a cesarean delivery may be one way to reduce the risk of injury to mother and child.

Doctors who miss signs of gestational diabetes and microsomia may be putting their patients in grave danger.

Preeclampsia

About five to eight percent of pregnant women will develop preeclampsia, usually after week 20, in the second or third trimester. This condition causes high blood pressure, and other symptoms may include:

  • Swelling
  • Sudden weight gain
  • Vision problems
  • Vomiting and nausea
  • Shortness of breath.

In some women, preeclampsia produces no noticeable symptoms, but during a pre-natal checkup, a doctor may detect common signs of preeclampsia – high blood pressure or protein in the urine – that a patient wouldn’t notice.

Another condition that’s considered a variant of preeclampsia is HELLP Syndrome, which is a life-threatening change in the body that can occur in late pregnancy or after giving birth. A woman with this condition will typically have elevated liver enzymes, low platelet count, and hemolysis (the rupture or destruction of red blood cells).

Symptoms of HELLP Syndrome are similar to those of preeclampsia. But the syndrome is often misdiagnosed as the flu or gastritis.

When a woman has severe preeclampsia or HELLP Syndrome, a baby is at higher risk of premature birth. And in some cases, a physician may decide to induce delivery early, to prevent the mother’s health from worsening. In either situation, a baby born prematurely will require hospital care and may be susceptible to illness.

Common Misdiagnoses

Ectopic pregnancy is when an embryo is developing outside the womb, which means the pregnancy is not viable. Doctors typically prescribe methotrexate to women with this condition, and the drug effectively terminates the pregnancy. An untreated ectopic pregnancy can be life-threatening.

Dr. Peter Doubilet, who wrote a paper on the misdiagnosis of ectopic pregnancy, said that, often, doctors incorrectly prescribe methotrexate. They mistake a patient’s pelvic pain and bleeding as signs of ectopic pregnancy, when in fact the embryo is developing within the womb. The drug may cause severe birth defects or result in the miscarriage of an otherwise viable pregnancy.

Another misdiagnosis during pregnancy concerns electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) equipment, which health providers use to make sure the baby’s heart is beating normally. The most common allegation in related medical malpractice claims is that a healthcare provider misread EFM outputs and therefore failed to notice signs of fetal distress and/or failed to perform a timely cesarean delivery (necessary in some cases, to provide lifesaving medical treatment for the baby).

Medical personnel must have proper training in order to correctly interpret readings on EFM equipment. Even with training, interpretation of readouts is somewhat subjective, and that’s why many mistakes occur. Miscommunication between nurses and doctors may also play a role in EFM diagnostic errors.

Help for Families

A baby who is born with a serious health problem may require extensive hospitalization, and perhaps lifelong medical care. If you believe medical negligence harmed you or your baby, you need an experienced personal injury attorney on your side.

Call Wapner Newman at 800-LAW-6600, or fill out our online form, to request your free, no-obligation consultation.