By Kate Gelder, Solicitor, Clinical Negligence
Today (22 May) marks World Pre-eclampsia day.
Pre-eclampsia is a serious condition that can strike out of the blue, usually during the second half of pregnancy or shortly after birth, and can have devastating consequences for mum and/or baby. The word “Eclampsia” is Greek for lightning. Pre-eclampsia affects up to 10% of first time pregnancies and is therefore the most common of the serious complications of pregnancy.
Pre-eclampsia is related to high blood pressure and protein in the urine during pregnancy. If it is not diagnosed quickly it can have serious consequences including seizures, stroke or death for the mum and stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight for the baby. There is no cure for this condition so treatment and management are extremely important to ensure that delivery occurs at the best time to promote the health of mum and baby. With prompt treatment, mum and baby can progress through labour safely, but it can be a traumatic time.
There are early signs that can and should be picked up by those caring for mum, usually a midwife or consultant obstetrician. If you are pregnant and have any concerns, please seek advice from your medical professional. Some of the later signs of pre-eclampsia include swollen hands, ankles and feet, severe headache, vision problems and excessive weight gain caused by fluid retention.
For the first time ever the condition of pre-eclampsia was debated in Parliament on 9 May with Patricia Gibson, politician for the Scottish National Party, leading the debate. Sadly, Patricia suffered a stillbirth of her son two days after his due date caused by delays in recognising her condition and delivering her son, Kenneth, earlier.
The Lancet undertook an analysis of 573 women in 2016/2017 and found that placental growth factor (PIGF) testing “substantially reduced the time to clinical confirmation of pre-eclampsia”. Where PIGF testing was implemented they found a lower incidence of adverse outcome for the mum and therefore it was concluded that they supported adopting PIGF testing in women with suspected pre-eclampsia. In the British Medical Journal (BMJ) it is stated that testing is to be rolled out in England but no timescale is yet given. This is a huge breakthrough though and is eagerly awaited.
Further advice and help regarding pre-eclampsia can be found at Action on Pre-eclampsia, a charity set up to give advice and help to members of the public affected by this condition.
Laura Smith * had high blood pressure when this was checked 38 weeks into her pregnancy. No action was taken. Her blood pressure was again high at three days past her due date but again, no action was taken. On both occasions referral should have been made to the medical assessment unit and had it been delivery would have occurred before Laura went on to suffer pre-eclamptic fits or HELLP syndrome (a combined liver and blood clotting disorder). Laura would have been conscious during the delivery of her baby, rather than requiring an emergency caesarean section under general anaesthetic and she would have avoided the psychiatric injury she suffered as a result of the traumatic delivery of her baby.
With the assistance of our team, Laura was able to seek a financial settlement and access counselling.
At Switalskis Solicitors our experienced Clinical Negligence team frequently work with mothers and families who have suffered as a result of problems during and after labour. If you would like to speak to a member of our team please contact us on 01484 825 200.