On March 8, 2013, a Richmond County, Georgia Superior Court medical malpractice jury found in favor of the two medical malpractice defendant doctors in a case involving a patient who lost her vision due to preeclampsia. The husband and wife medical malpractice plaintiffs alleged in their medical malpractice lawsuit that the pregnant wife had symptoms that should have alerted the defendant physician who was providing her prenatal care that she was in danger of developing preeclampsia, which is a dangerous medical condition that can affect pregnant women when their blood pressure spikes during pregnancy.
The plaintiffs alleged that the other defendant physician, who treated the woman in the emergency room in early April 2008, should have diagnosed the woman’s preeclampsia based on her symptoms when she came to the emergency room, requiring that she be delivered immediately. That physician ordered that the woman be on bed rest and ordered further lab tests. The lab test results came back the following day at which time the woman had an emergency Cesarean section delivery performed by the same physician who provided her with prenatal care.
The woman suffered temporary blindness at the time of the delivery of her baby but she subsequently recovered most of her vision. She had several office visits with both defendants after the delivery of her baby on April 7, 2008.
The medical malpractice defendants contended at trial that the prenatal medical records did not support the claim that preeclampsia should have been suspected and that although the emergency room physician suspected that the woman had preeclampsia, the woman’s pregnancy was too early to automatically deliver the baby by Cesarean section delivery when she was first seen in the emergency room.
Preeclampsia is when a pregnant woman develops high blood pressure and protein in the urine after the 20th week of pregnancy. Although the exact cause of preeclampsia is unknown, it thought that it may be caused by autoimmune disorders, blood vessel problems, diet, or genetics. The risk factors for developing preeclampsia include first pregnancy, multiple fetuses, obesity, age over 35, history of diabetes, high blood pressure, and kidney disease.
It is common for women with preeclampsia to not feel ill but symptoms of preeclampsia may include swelling of the hands and face/eyes (however, some swelling of the feet and ankles is considered normal during pregnancy) or sudden weight gain over 1-2 days (more than 2 pounds a week).
The symptoms of severe preeclampsia include headache that does not go away; belly pain on the right side, below the ribs (pain may also be felt in the right shoulder and can be confused with heartburn, gallbladder pain, a stomach virus, or the baby kicking); irritability; decreased urine output or not urinating very often; nausea and vomiting (a particularly worrisome sign); and vision changes, including temporary blindness, seeing flashing lights or spots, sensitivity to light, and blurry vision.
Treating physicians will take the patient’s blood pressure (usually higher than 140/90 mm/Hg in women with preclampsia – women who had low blood pressure at the start of their pregnancy followed by a significant rise in blood pressure during pregnancy need to be watched closely for other signs of preeclampsia) and look for swelling in the hands and face and determine weight gain. Medical testing include blood and urine tests that may show protein in the urine (proteinuria), higher-than-normal liver enzymes, and platelet count less than 100,000. Medical tests can also determine how well the blood clots and monitor the baby’s health. Other tests may include a pregnancy ultrasound, a non-stress test, and other tests to help determine if the baby needs to be delivered immediately.
The only way to cure preeclampsia is to deliver the baby. However, if the baby is not yet fully developed and the preeclampsia is mild, the physician may opt to manage the condition at home until the baby has a good chance of surviving after delivery, ordering bed rest (lying on the left side most or all of the time), drinking plenty of water, consuming less salt, frequent office visits, and sometimes ordering blood pressure lowering medications. If treatment takes place in the hospital, the physician may order close monitoring of the mother and baby, medications to control blood pressure and prevent seizures and other complications, and steroid injections (after 24 weeks) to help speed up the development of the baby’s lungs.
Severe complications of preeclampsia include bleeding problems, premature separation of the placenta from the uterus before the baby is born, rupture of the liver, stroke and death (which is very rare).
Signs and symptoms of preeclampsia usually go away within 6 weeks after delivery but the high blood pressure sometimes gets worse the first few days after delivery. If a woman had preeclampsia, she is more likely to develop it again in another pregnancy; however, it is not usually as severe as the first time. If a woman had high blood pressure during more than one pregnancy, she is more likely to have high blood pressure when she gets older.
If you or your baby suffered injuries or other harms as a result of preeclampsia that was not timely diagnosed, was misdiagnosed, or improperly treated, you should consult with a medical malpractice attorney in your state who may agree to investigate your possible preeclampsia medical malpractice claim for you and represent you in a preeclampsia medical malpractice case, if appropriate.
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