Placenta Previa & Potential Medical Malpractice Lawsuits
Before birth, a fetus receives food and oxygen from an organ known as the placenta. This organ develops in the uterus during pregnancy. When the baby is born, the placenta detaches from the wall of the uterus, and the contractions of the mother expel it through the birth canal. While the placenta usually attaches to the upper part of the uterus wall, a rare condition known as placenta previa arises when the placenta develops lower in the uterus. It covers or partly covers the cervix, which is the opening to the uterus.
Sometimes placenta previa does not cause problems, but placenta previa late in pregnancy may result in blood loss that can endanger the mother and the child. This is because the cervix will start to thin out and dilate to ease labor, since the baby must pass through it to reach the birth canal. As a result, the blood vessels between the placenta and the uterus may tear, causing heavy bleeding.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Placenta Previa
If a pregnant woman starts bleeding from the vagina, especially in the latter stages of pregnancy, this may indicate placenta previa. This symptom should be investigated and addressed, even if the bleeding is painless. Severe bleeding warrants a trip to the emergency room. However, placenta previa does not always involve bleeding from the vagina.
Risk Factors for Placenta Previa
Age (35 or older)
A pregnancy of twins or other multiples
Past C-sections or other uterus surgeries
History of placenta previa
A doctor can use an ultrasound imaging test to determine whether the placenta is unusually low on the uterine wall. They may test for placenta previa in response to symptoms like vaginal bleeding, but sometimes an ultrasound conducted for other purposes may reveal this condition. If an ultrasound in the second trimester shows a low placenta, but a mother does not have any bleeding, the condition may resolve on its own.
Treatment for Placenta Previa
In response to placenta previa, a doctor usually will advise an expectant mother to plan for a C-section. This can forestall the risk of severe bleeding during labor and delivery. If a pregnant woman already suffers from vaginal bleeding due to placenta previa, medical providers should monitor their condition and try to extend their pregnancy to the extent possible. They may need to stay in the hospital until birth or until the bleeding stops. Medical staff may provide transfusions to counter blood loss. A mother may receive corticosteroid drugs to accelerate the development of fetal organs, such as the lungs.
Heavy bleeding, especially very late in pregnancy, may cause a doctor to recommend an immediate C-section to prevent further complications. Moreover, if a pregnancy reaches nine months, but labor has not started, a doctor may conduct an amniocentesis. This analyzes the amniotic fluid in the uterus and shows whether the lungs of the fetus are fully developed. A doctor may advise a pregnant woman to schedule an immediate C-section if the lungs are fully developed.
Medical Malpractice Claims Involving Placenta Previa
Prompt, competent treatment of placenta previa can prevent serious complications from this condition. On the other hand, failing to identify, monitor, and respond to placenta previa can put both a mother and her child at risk. When complications of this condition arise from medical errors, a family may consider bringing a malpractice lawsuit against any doctors or other providers that were at fault. They would need to show that the mother, the baby, or both suffered harm from dangerously heavy bleeding or other complications of placenta previa that could have been prevented with proper medical care.
Professional Standard of Care
A patient must show that a doctor did not follow the practices that a reasonable, competent doctor in their field would have followed when treating a similar patient.
To preserve their rights, a family will need to file their lawsuit within the statute of limitations in their state. This is a rule that defines the time for bringing a birth injury claim. In most cases, a lawsuit will be dismissed if it is not brought within the statute of limitations, even if it is substantively strong. Consulting an experienced birth injury lawyer as soon as possible can help avoid problems with the statute of limitations and other technical rules in these cases.