Cerebral palsy (CP) is one of the more common forms of birth injuries. It is assumed to mostly be caused by oxygen deprivation while the unborn child is in the womb or during labor and delivery. However, growing evidence suggests that it can also be caused by bacterial infections, such as chorioamnionitis, which can be more difficult to diagnose.
What is Chorioamnionitis?
Chorioamnionitis is a severe infection that occurs during pregnancy. The infection usually begins when bacteria enter a mucus membrane of the pregnant mother’s body, typically in the vagina or rectum, before spreading to the uterus. It can also begin in the uterus if the amniotic sac becomes damaged. Once the bacteria reach the womb and the unborn child, they can infect the chorion, amnion, placenta, or amniotic fluid, which triggers a chorioamnionitis infection. Approximately 3% of all births in the United States involve a chorioamnionitis infection that can cause premature labor and severe complications, such as cerebral palsy.
How Does Chorioamnionitis Cause Cerebral Palsy?
The bacteria that cause chorioamnionitis can damage the amniotic fluid and placenta to the point that the unborn child no longer receives adequate nutrients and oxygen. Deprivation of oxygen and nutrients for even a relatively short period can harm the unborn child’s developing brain. In some situations, this brain damage can result in cerebral palsy, a birth injury with permanent consequences.
What Increases the Risk of Chorioamnionitis?
As a bacterial infection, chorioamnionitis is directly caused by exposure to the bacteria. However, the risk of exposure triggering infection is known to go up with the introduction of different risk factors.
Factors that can increase the risk of chorioamnionitis include:
- Premature labor
- Extended or arduous labor
- Vaginal infection or STI
- Group B strep infection
- Early water breakage
- Multiple vaginal exams after water breakage
- Unclean medical instruments used during fetal monitoring
What are the Symptoms of Chorioamnionitis?
Obstetricians and other medical professionals who are seeing and treating a pregnant mother should pay attention to any signs of chorioamnionitis. Treatment is most effective if it can begin soon after the infection takes hold, so it is crucial for the symptoms to be diagnosed as soon as possible.
Typical symptoms of chorioamnionitis include:
- Persistent or high fever
- Profuse or frequent sweating
- Maternal or fetal rapid heart rate
- Unusual vaginal discharge
- Uterus pain or tenderness
What Harm Can Chorioamnionitis Cause?
Chorioamnionitis can trigger extremely unsafe health complications in both the mother and the unborn child if left untreated. Typically, complications will be more dangerous to the unborn child, but pregnant mothers can still be at severe risk, so every case must be taken seriously.
A pregnant mother with chorioamnionitis can suffer:
- Bloodstream infection (sepsis)
- Blood clots
- Internal hemorrhaging
An unborn child with chorioamnionitis can suffer:
- Neonatal sepsis
- Cerebral palsy and other birth injuries
How Do Doctors Diagnose Chorioamnionitis?
Symptoms of chorioamnionitis can be identical to the symptoms of other bacterial infections in a pregnant mother. To identify the bacteria that caused the infection and what it is affecting, medical professionals should conduct diagnostic tests.
Tests and procedures used to diagnose chorioamnionitis can include:
- Blood test to check white blood cell count.
- Urine test to check white blood cell count.
- Vaginal tissue examination to check for bacteria.
- Amniotic fluid examination to check for bacteria.
- Ultrasound to check the overall health of the unborn child.
How is Chorioamnionitis Treated?
If chorioamnionitis is identified by a medical examination, then a regimen of antibiotics will be necessary to fight the infection. Positively identifying the bacteria as chorioamnionitis is crucial because using the wrong type of antibiotic can delay or complicate treatment. If the infection is severe or there are signs of fetal complications, then the doctor might recommend an early delivery of the unborn child, such as an emergency C-section.
Can Medical Malpractice Cause Chorioamnionitis?
When a pregnant mother is diagnosed with chorioamnionitis, it is important to consider how the infection was able to take hold. Although chorioamnionitis can occur with the best medical care, it can also occur due to substandard medical care, which might constitute medical malpractice. If it does, then a medical malpractice claim or lawsuit could be justified.
Types of medical malpractice that can cause chorioamnionitis can vary, such as:
- Using unclean medical instruments during vaginal, uterine, or fetal examinations.
- Failing to recognize the symptoms of maternal or fetal infection.
- Failing to order the right diagnostic tests to identify the type of bacteria causing the infection.
- Completing unnecessary vaginal exams after water breakage.
- Administering the wrong antibiotics after diagnosing the infection.
- Delaying the delivery of the unborn child when emergency delivery is needed.
Should You Talk to an Attorney About Chorioamnionitis Malpractice?
If you suspect that you or your child’s chorioamnionitis was not treated correctly and that treatment failure worsened the condition or caused your child to suffer cerebral palsy, then you should speak with a medical malpractice attorney in your area right away. You could have the grounds to file a claim but not know it until you let a legal professional review your case. A successful claim could result in financial compensation given to you and your child, as well as a sense of justice and closure that helps you move on.
James Wood Law is the trusted name for medical malpractice claims across New Mexico. Our litigation team has taken more than 50 cases to jury trials and settled more than 150 cases, with many resulting in multimillion-dollar outcomes in favor of our clients. Please call (505) 906-6774 to talk with our chorioamnionitis malpractice lawyers about your case. We accept calls 24/7 and all consultations are kept confidential.