Failure to diagnose postpartum preeclampsia

Postpartum preeclampsia, the precursor to eclampsia, is a dreaded condition related to pregnancy that is extremely dangerous to New Jersey mothers. However, it is treatable if properly diagnosed.

Unlike preeclampsia and eclampsia which can injure both mother and baby, postpartum preeclampsia affects only the mother. Although less common than preeclampsia, the postpartum version can result in death to the mother.

Signs of postpartum preeclampsia

Signs of postpartum preeclampsia can be similar to other less onerous conditions, and include the following:

  • Very quick weight gain related to water retention and swelling
  • Worse than usual headaches and abdominal pain
  • Significantly increased episodes of dizziness, vomiting and nausea
  • Changes in reflexes and vision
  • Diminished urine volume or frequency of urination

Failure to diagnose postpartum preeclampsia

However, postpartum preeclampsia may not be getting the attention it deserves. According to NPR, preeclampsia continues to cause 8 percent of the deaths of new mothers.

In a tragic case, a new mother died within 24 hours of child birth while still in the hospital. Hospital staff presumed that her initial complaints of abdominal pain were reflux. She vomited her medications. Her blood pressure spiked far above the elevated blood pressure she had prior to birth which, although elevated, was not abnormal. Because medical personnel found her labs to not be indicative of preeclampsia, the hospital did not treat her for the condition until too late.

She ultimately suffered a bleed in her brain, culminating in her death. The diagnosis of this mother’s condition came well after it should have. Further, when it was, a shortage of needed platelets in the hospital meant she did not receive necessary treatment.

In the investigation that followed, determinations noted that failures did occur, faulting the hospital. Evidence revealed that the nurse did not notify the obstetrician of the elevated blood pressure prior to delivery. Also, there was a lack of appropriate further evaluation and monitoring by the doctor prior to the birth. In fact, the doctor failed to address the hypertension until after the staff called Code Stroke. Hospital staff did not follow recommended guidelines on obstetrics.

The tragic death of this new mother exemplifies that legally actionable medical malpractice occurs both in pregnancy and post-delivery. The bringing of a lawsuit regarding such medical failures may be the most effective way to bring about change in procedures within the medical profession that will result in less tragic incidents involving preeclampsia and other pregnancy related conditions.

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