Amniotic Fluid Embolism and Medical Malpractice in Oregon

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Understanding What an Amniotic Fluid Embolism is and How Medical Malpractice in Oregon Can Cause it

The birth of a baby is one of life’s greatest experiences. Parents eagerly await the moment when they can meet their child for the first time. While most parents are aware that things can go wrong during the birth of their child, it is not usually on the front of their minds. Unfortunately, sometimes complications do occur that harm the mother, infant, or both. One serious and often fatal complication is an amniotic fluid embolism. While rare, this is a very serious complication that must be dealt with immediately. Failing to recognize and treat an amniotic embolism will most certainly lead to death, and is considered negligence.

When a victim suffers damages caused by the negligence of a healthcare provider it usually leads to a medical malpractice action.  A medical malpractice case can be against the healthcare provider, such as the family care practitioner or an OB-GYN, or it can be against the nurses and hospital that are performing the care and treatment to the family and the victim.  In some instances, all parties may have a varying degree of liability and share in the costs or damages suffered by a victim of medical malpractice in Oregon, including for the failure to diagnose or treat an amniotic fluid embolism.

What is an Amniotic Fluid Embolism?

An amniotic fluid embolism occurs when the amniotic fluid enters the mother’s blood stream. The amniotic fluid is the fluid that surrounds the baby in the placenta. When the amniotic fluid enters the mother’s bloodstream, it moves into the circulatory system. As the amniotic fluid is composed of fetal material, the mother’s immune system recognizes it as a foreign substance which then causes an acute inflammatory response. Due to this, there is abnormal clotting in the mother’s blood vessels and lungs, which can lead to disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC). Some mothers may have this extreme immune response while others do not. 

What are the Risk Factors of Amniotic Fluid Embolism?

There are some risk factors that may place women at risk for this condition. Risk factors include the following:

  • Preeclampsia – dangerously high blood pressure during pregnancy
  • Abnormalities with the placenta
  • Women over the age of 35 (considered to be advanced maternal age)
  • Women whose labor is induced – certain labor inducing medications have been found to increase the risk of amniotic fluid embolism
  • Use of excessive force during delivery (i.e. use of vacuum extraction, forceps or excessive force used during c-sections)
  • Tears of the cervix or uterus
  • Excessive amniotic fluid (polyhydramnios)
  • Placental abruption – when the placenta detaches from the uterus prematurely
  • Placenta previa – this occurs when the placenta covers the opening of the cervix
  • Intense contractions

Complications of Amniotic Fluid Embolism

Mortality rate of this condition is quite high which means that medical malpractice could result in a wrongful death. If the mother does survive, there are other potential complications of this condition, including the following:

  • Brain injury – This occurs due to the blood clots in the lungs that develop as a result of the immune system response travel to the mother’s brain, causing a reduction in the amount of oxygen the mother is receiving
  • Infant death – Most infants are able to be delivered successfully, even if this condition is fatal for the mother
  • Cardiac arrest – Blood clots in the lungs that develop as a result of amniotic fluid embolism can cause sudden cardiac arrest
  • Fetal distress – If a baby experiences fetal distress, if not delivered immediately they may suffer from brain damage such as hypoxia, cerebral palsy and hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy
  • Multi organ failure – multiple organs may begin to fail due to a lack of adequate oxygen in the blood
  • Need for complete or partial hysterectomy
  • Pituitary gland damage
  • Memory loss
  • Issues with the nervous system 

Most mothers who survive amniotic fluid embolism will suffer some type of deficit, often neurological in nature. 

Symptoms of Amniotic Fluid Embolism 

The symptoms of amniotic fluid embolism are often quite clear once the amniotic fluid enters the mother’s blood stream, causing an immune response. According to the Mayo Clinic, Mothers with amniotic fluid embolism may experience the following:

  • Pulmonary edema
  • Sudden drop in blood pressure
  • Rapid heart rate
  • Shortness of breath
  • Chills
  • Uterine bleeding, bleeding from an intravenous (IV) site or c-section site
  • Altered mental status
  • Vomiting
  • Nausea
  • Fetal distress (i.e heart rate abnormalities)
  • Seizures
  • Discoloration of the skin
  • Severe anxiety
  • Severe agitation

How are Amniotic Fluid Embolisms Diagnosed?

Amniotic fluid embolisms are diagnosed with a variety of tests, including the following:

  • Electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG) to evaluate heart rhythm
  • Chest x-ray to check for fluid around the heart
  • Blood tests to check cardiac enzymes, clotting factors, electrolytes, blood type and to check a complete blood count
  • Vital sign measurement (checking heart rate, oxygen level, blood pressure and temperature)
  • Echocardiogram to test the mother’s heart function

Treatment of Amniotic Fluid Embolism

Once identified, treatment typically involves stabilizing the mother to prevent the condition from worsening. Ventilator therapy or oxygen therapy are often used, and a pulmonary arterial catheter may be placed to monitor the mother’s heart. Blood pressure medications and blood products are often given as well. The baby must be immediately delivered, often via c-section if the amniotic fluid embolism is identified. Failure to deliver the baby in a timely manner can lead to death of the infant. 

Complications From Amniotic Fluid Embolism Due to Medical Malpractice

While the rate of mortality for amniotic fluid embolisms is high, there are times when the death of the mother or baby could have been prevented if identified in at timely manner and treated in a timely manner. If a physician fails to diagnose the condition leading to death, this is considered medical malpractice. Additionally, if the condition is identified but not treated appropriately, this too is negligence. If a c-section is delayed, causing either infant complications or death, this is considered medical malpractice. Not all deaths due to amniotic fluid embolisms are medical malpractice related. However, cases of amniotic fluid embolism should be reviewed to ensure that every appropriate measure was taken to prevent complications or death of the mother and newborn. 

Ask our Portland Medical Malpractice Lawyer in Oregon For Help with an Amniotic Fluid Embolism 

If you or a loved one have been seriously injured or killed as a result of medical malpractice contact the Oregon Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Kuhlman Law at our number below or fill out the intake form.  We offer a free initial case evaluation and handle cases on a contingency fee which means that you pay no money unless we recover.

Our law firm handles cases throughout the state including Bend and Portland Oregon, Redmond, Central Oregon, Sisters, Madras, Multnomah County, Deschutes County, Salem, Eugene, Corvallis, Lane County, Medford, Gresham, La Grande, Albany, Medford, Beaverton, Umatilla, Pendleton,  Cottage Grove, Florence, Oregon City, Springfield, Keizer, Grants Pass, McMinnville, Tualatin, West Linn, Forest Grove, Wilsonville, Newberg, Roseburg, Lake Oswego, Klamath Falls, Happy Valley, Tigard, Ashland, Milwakie, Coos Bay, The Dalles,  St. Helens, Sherwood, Central Point, Canby, Troutdale, Hermiston, Silverton, Hood River, Newport, Prineville, Astoria, Tillamook, Lincoln City, Hillsboro, and Vancouver, Washington.

We also have an office in Minneapolis, Minnesota and take medical malpractice cases throughout the Twin Cities, including St. Paul, Hennepin County, Ramsey County, Dakota County, Washington County, Anoka County, Scott County, Blaine, Stillwater, and Saint Paul Minnesota.

For a free case evaluation


(541) 385-1999 in Bend, Oregon
(503) 479-3646 in Portland, Oregon
(612) 444-3374 in Minnesota

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