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Preeclampsia and Birth Injuries

Preeclampsia is a sudden rise in blood pressure marked by swelling in the face, hands and feet. It is a common complication that occurs during pregnancy and affects about one in 20 pregnancies. However, it is a condition that should not be left untreated because it can develop into an eclampsia where the mother may experience convulsions, organ failure, blood clots, placental complications or premature delivery. Eclampsia may even result in a coma and/or prove fatal.

Preeclampsia is normally diagnosed during regular prenatal appointments. There is no treatment for preeclampsia, but your doctor may recommend that you undergo a C-section instead of a vaginal birth. This is to help reduce the risks and complications that may arise if you try to deliver vaginally. If your child has suffered birth injuries as a result of mistreated or untreated preeclampsia, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit seeking compensation. An experienced New York birth injury lawyer will be able to advise you regarding your legal rights and options.

 Why Does Preeclampsia Occur?

Preeclampsia during pregnancy may be caused by a number of factors. Experts believe that it originates in the placenta – the organ that provides oxygen and nutrients to the fetus throughout the pregnancy. Early in pregnancy, new blood vessels develop and evolve to efficiently send blood to the placenta. In women with preeclampsia, these blood vessels neither develop nor function properly and tend to be narrower than normal blood vessels, which essentially limits the amount of blood that can flow through them. Some of the causes for this abnormal development may include insufficient blood flow to the uterus; damage to the blood vessels; immune system issues; and genetic issues.

Symptoms of Preeclampsia

Here are some of the common symptoms of preeclampsia, which should not be ignored during pregnancy:

  • High blood pressure. This may develop slowly or it may suddenly shoot up. Monitoring your blood pressure is a crucial part of prenatal care because the first sign of preeclampsia is commonly a rise in blood pressure.
  • Excess protein in the urine or additional signs of kidney problems
  • Changes in vision including blurry vision, light sensitivity or even temporary loss of vision.
  • Severe and chronic headaches.
  • Upper abdominal pain, typically under your ribs on the right side of your body.
  • Vomiting and nausea.
  • Decreased urine output and lower levels of platelets in your blood.
  • Impaired liver function.
  • Shortness of breath caused by fluid in your lungs.
  • Sudden weight gain and swelling in your face and hands.
  • Growth restriction in the fetus resulting from a reduced blood supply to the placenta.

What Are the Risk Factors?

Here are some of the most common risk factors for preeclampsia:

Medical history: If you or someone in your family has had preeclampsia, your risk of developing the condition substantially increases. Having other health conditions such as type 1 or type 2 diabetes, kidney disease, propensity for blood clots or lupus, also increases the risk of preeclampsia.

Chronic hypertension: If you already have high blood pressure, you are at an increased risk of developing preeclampsia.

First pregnancy: If this is your first baby, the risk of preeclampsia is high.

New paternity: Each pregnancy with a new partner raises your risk of preeclampsia more than it does with subsequent pregnancy with the same partner.

Age: If you are very young or older than 40 years at the time of your pregnancy, your risk for preeclampsia is higher.

Obesity: If you are obese, the risk of preeclampsia is higher as well.

Multiple pregnancies: If you are carrying twins or multiple babies, your risk is higher.

In vitro: If your child was conceived with in vitro fertilization, you have a greater risk of developing preeclampsia.

How is Preeclampsia Diagnosed?

Preeclampsia is typically diagnosed with routine blood pressure checks and urine tests during prenatal appointments. Although a blood pressure reading higher than 140/90 is considered abnormally high in pregnancy, a single blood pressure reading does not necessarily indicate preeclampsia. However if a second blood pressure reading six hours after the first is also abnormal, it confirms preeclampsia. Urinary protein measurements can also help further confirm the condition. Additional tests that can help diagnose preeclampsia include blood tests (to assess liver and kidney functioning) and fetal ultrasound tests that can help determine if the baby is getting enough oxygen and nutrients.

What Are the Complications That May Occur?

The complications from preeclampsia may be serious depending on when it occurs during the pregnancy and how severe it is. Delivery by C-section may be necessary. Complications from preeclampsia usually includes:

Limited fetal growth: Since preeclampsia affects the arteries that carry blood to the placenta, the fetus may not receive the required amount of blood, oxygen and nutrients that are vital to growth. This may result in slow growth known as fetal growth restriction, low birth weight or preterm birth.

Premature birth: Mothers with preeclampsia may need to give birth early to save the mother and child’s lives. Prematurity may result in breathing troubles and other issues for the child.

Placental abruption: Preeclampsia also increases the risk of placental abruption, a condition in which the placenta separates from the inner wall of the uterus before delivery. This condition may result in severe bleeding, which may prove life threatening for the mother and child.

Eclampsia: When preeclampsia is not controlled, eclampsia (a condition that results in seizures) may develop. Since eclampsia may have serious consequences for both mother and baby, prompt decisions with regard to delivery become critical.

Organ damages: Preeclampsia may result in severe damage to vital organs such as the kidneys, liver, lungs and heart. It may even lead to a stroke or brain injury.

Preeclampsia and Birth Injuries

A number of birth injuries have been linked to preeclampsia.

Hypoxic-Ischemic Encephalopathy: Preeclampsia can change how blood flows to the developing fetus. In preeclampsia, the mother’s high blood pressure increases the constriction of the blood vessels. This heightened resistance may in turn result in decreased blood flow across the placenta depriving the fetus of much-needed oxygen. This may increase the risk of a condition known as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), a brain injury that is caused by lack of oxygen flow to the baby’s brain.

Cerebral Palsy: When preeclampsia is not treated or not properly treated, it increases the risk of birth complications such as lack of oxygen supply to the fetus. Numerous studies show that a majority of cerebral palsy cases are caused by birth asphyxia or lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain at the time of birth.  Poorly controlled preeclampsia increases the risk of cerebral palsy, which is a condition marked by impaired muscle coordination and/or other disabilities, typically caused by damage to the brain before or at birth.

Intrauterine Growth Restriction: The high blood pressure caused by preeclampsia constricts blood vessels and stops vital nutrients from reaching the fetus. This may stunt the baby’s growth, causing to them to develop slowly. Babies of mothers who have untreated preeclampsia tend to be underdeveloped and have decreased oxygen levels. These babies also may not be able to withstand labor, which means the safest method to deliver them, often, is with a planned C-section. These babies are likely to suffer serious complications such as birth asphyxia if they undergo a vaginal birth.

In addition to injuries to the baby, preeclampsia may also cause serious complications and injuries to the mother including brain bleeding, kidney failure and blood clots.

Preeclampsia: Treatment and Prevention

If the mother has mild preeclampsia, some of the possible treatments include rest, increasing the frequency of prenatal checkups to monitor fetal heart rate as well as blood tests and urine checks for the mother. Moms may also be advised to go on a low-sodium diet, drink at least eight glasses of water a day and follow a protein-rich diet. If your preeclampsia is severe, your doctor may prescribe blood pressure medication.

The best way to prevent or diminish the risk of complications from preeclampsia is to screen pregnant women regularly for high blood pressure. Your doctor may also recommend a daily low-dose aspirin beginning late in your first trimester. Women who have calcium deficiency might also benefit from calcium supplements to prevent preeclampsia.

Damages for Birth Injuries

If your child has suffered a birth injury such as brain damage or cerebral palsy, it is very likely that he or she would need medical treatment, rehabilitation and care for the rest of his or her life. If negligence or an error by a doctor or the hospital caused your child’s birth injuries, you may be able to file a birth injury lawsuit seeking compensation for those injuries and the resulting damages and losses.

You may be able to seek both economic and non-economic damages in such cases. Non-economic damages include compensation for emotional distress caused by the injuries and past and future pain and suffering. Economic damages include compensation for medical expenses, cost of physical and occupational therapy, lost income, or any other type of monetary losses that may occur because of your child’s birth injuries.

In birth injury cases, plaintiffs must typically prove that:

  • A doctor-patient relationship existed when the injury took place. If the doctor in question, for example, provided prenatal care and/or delivered your baby, then the doctor-patient relationship did exist.
  • The doctor must have been negligent in his or her treatment. For example, if you had displayed symptoms of preeclampsia such as high blood pressure on more than one occasion or had elevated urine protein levels and your doctor did not treat you for preeclampsia, then that would be considered negligent.
  • The negligence must have resulted in birth injuries.
  • You should have suffered damages as a result of those injuries.

Generally speaking, the parents or legal guardians of the child may be able to file these birth injury claims. The most common types of negligence in a birth injury case include, but are not limited to, failing to observe and monitor fetal distress, not properly diagnosing medical issues, failing to use birth assisting tools competently, failing to properly treat maternal infections, and/or failing to schedule or carry out a C-section, etc.

Contacting an Experienced Lawyer

If your child has been injured at birth as the result of a doctor or medical team’s lack of proper fetal monitoring or not performing a timely C-section surgery, you may be able to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. Families of children who suffer disabling birth injuries may be able to seek compensation for damages including, but not limited to, medical expenses, lost future income, cost of rehabilitation including physical and occupational therapy, counseling, cost of medication and medical equipment, permanent injuries, disabilities, past and future pain and suffering, etc.

If your child has suffered an injury from complications during birth and due to medical negligence, the experienced New York personal injury attorneys at the Law Offices of Kenneth A. Wilhelm can help you better understand your legal rights and options, and also fight hard to recover just compensation for you.

One of our clients secured a $43,940,000 verdict for a child who was diagnosed with cerebral palsy. The hospital failed to diagnose fetal distress, which led to brain damage and cerebral palsy from lack of oxygen supply to the brain. The delay in diagnosing the fetal distress and ordering a C-section delivery caused the child’s condition. Another client of ours received a $23,500,000 verdict for a child who developed cerebral palsy and mental retardation after suffering a birth injury. Both verdicts were so large that they were later reduced on appeal.

In another case, our client obtained a $4,500,000 settlement where the doctor negligently used forceps to deliver a baby cutting oxygen supply to the child’s brain. The infant suffered from cerebral palsy as a result. It was able to be proven that a C-section should have been performed, which may have prevented the cerebral palsy from occurring.

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