During pregnancy, a fetus receives food and oxygen from the placenta, which is an organ that forms inside the uterus. Normally, the placenta remains attached to the wall of the uterus until the child is born, but sometimes it may separate or partly separate. This condition is known as placental abruption. A mother may develop heavy bleeding from placental abruption, while her baby may suffer from oxygen deprivation and inadequate nutrition. When the placenta separates significantly from the uterus, a baby may face a risk of premature birth before 37 weeks of pregnancy, problems with growth, or even a tragic stillbirth.
Past History, Greater Risk
Placental abruption arises in about 1 percent of pregnancies, but a mother who previously suffered from placental abruption has a 10 percent risk of developing it in a subsequent pregnancy.
Placental abruption usually occurs five months or more into a pregnancy, most often in the last trimester. About 10 percent of premature births involve this condition. The potentially serious health problems that are associated with premature births make it critical for a doctor to identify, monitor, and treat placental abruption.
Symptoms and Diagnosis of Placental Abruption
Like placenta previa, placental abruption most often causes bleeding from the vagina. However, blood lost from this condition may be trapped behind the placenta in some cases and thus may not exit the body. Other symptoms that may indicate placental abruption include a sudden onset of persistent stomach or back pain, as well as general discomfort in these areas. Risk factors for placental abruption may include:
A common way to diagnose placental abruption involves conducting an ultrasound imaging test. Sometimes an ultrasound will not identify an abruption, though, so a medical provider may diagnose it based on observing various symptoms in a physical exam.
Treatment for Placental Abruption
A doctor who diagnoses a placental abruption usually will try to extend the pregnancy if this is possible, reducing the risks associated with a premature birth. If a premature birth turns out to be necessary, a mother may receive corticosteroid drugs. These accelerate the development of fetal organs, such as the lungs. A mother who suffers from significant blood loss may receive transfusions.
Treatment varies depending on the severity of the abruption. A mild abruption may require monitoring and a hospital stay until birth or until any bleeding stops. If the abruption occurs close to the anticipated start of labor, a doctor may advise a C-section or labor induction. This is especially likely if the abruption gets worse or if bleeding occurs. Meanwhile, a doctor likely will urge a mother suffering from a severe placental abruption to give birth as soon as possible, often through a C-section.
In extreme situations, a mother may undergo a hysterectomy to remove the uterus. This will forestall the serious and potentially fatal complications of severe blood loss, but a woman who undergoes this procedure will not get pregnant again.
Compensation for Medical Errors Involving Placental Abruption
Failing to diagnose, monitor, or treat placental abruption may have catastrophic consequences for both a mother and her child. The mother may face life-threatening blood loss and sometimes the loss of her reproductive capacity through a hysterectomy if blood loss cannot be controlled. A baby may develop permanent health conditions that would not have arisen if they had been born after a full-length pregnancy.
A family can pursue compensation for medical errors involving placental abruption by filing a lawsuit against any health care provider that was at fault. Damages may cover the costs of treating complications from placental abruption, as well as any costs of ongoing treatment for permanent harm suffered by the mother, the baby, or both. A family also can seek compensation for the pain and suffering endured by the mother and the baby. Birth injury lawsuits are more complex and technical than most personal injury cases. Thus, a family likely should hire an attorney to assist them.