Amniotic fluid embolism syndrome (also known as anaphylactoid syndrome of pregnancy) is a disastrous complication of pregnancy and childbirth. The condition can be triggered by unpreventable effects of labor and delivery, or by medical malpractice at birth.
For an amniotic fluid embolism to occur, three conditions must be present:
(1) ruptured membranes of the amniotic sac (a “broken water”).
(2) ruptured uterine or cervical veins.
(3) a pressure gradient from uterus to vein.
When and amniotic fluid embolism occurs, amniotic fluid enters the mother’s circulatory system via the site of a uterine trauma (such as a laceration), the placental insertion site, or via endocervical veins, which can occur due to childbirth trauma, abortion, abdominal trauma during pregnancy, or even procedures such as an amniotic fluid infusion. This amniotic fluid may contain fetal squamous cells, fetal mucin, fetal hair, or other fetal “debris,” which can then migrate to the mother’s heart, lungs, brain, kidneys, liver, spleen, and pancreas. The amniotic fluid can trigger inflammation, allergic reaction, collapse of the heart and lungs, shock, or respiratory failure.
Amniotic fluid embolism syndrome occurs very infrequently. In fact, only one patient suffers an amniotic fluid embolism for every 8,000 to 80,000 births. Yet for some reason as-yet unknown, the incidence of amniotic fluid embolisms in the U.S. is on the rise.
And when an amniotic fluid embolism occurs, the results are extreme. First, the victim begins having shortness of breath and very high blood pressure. These symptoms rapidly proceed to cardiac or cardiopulmonary arrest or coma. This is known as the “first phase” of amniotic fluid embolism.
For those victims who survive the first phase (around forty percent of victims), a second phase follows. The second phase of amniotic fluid embolism, sometimes called the hemorrhagic phase, generally involves coughing, vomiting, severe chills and shivering, excessive bleeding, and, if the victim is conscious, a bad taste in her mouth. For those women who have not yet given birth, the reduction of oxygen supply during both phases can lead to fetal distress and danger.
Roughly half of all women who suffer an amniotic fluid embolism die within an hour after their symptoms begin. Overall, the death rate for victims of amniotic fluid embolism is around 80 percent, although around 70 percent of infants survive. Of those women who survive an amniotic fluid embolism, a large majority are left with permanent brain damage.
There are certain risk factors which help to predict amniotic fluid embolisms before they occur. For example, sudden or violent labor, advanced maternal age, delivery via C-section or using forceps or vacuum extraction, placenta previa, placental abruption, cervical lacerations, eclampsia, and enduced labor are all risk factors. Patients who are critically ill, or who suffer from venous thromboembolism, are at particular risk. The failure to anticipate and protect against amniotic fluid embolism in patients who have one or more risk factors may itself constitute medical negligence.
If you or a loved one has suffered an amniotic fluid embolism, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Your attorney, working with expert medical advisers, can help you to determine the causes of the amniotic fluid embolism in your case, and help you to decide whether to take legal action.
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