What Is Placental Insufficiency And What Causes It?


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The placenta, an organ that grows in the womb during pregnancy, is essential to the growth and life of the baby. Without it, the baby cannot survive. Placental insufficiency, also known as uteroplacental vascular insufficiency or placental dysfunction, is a serious but rare complication of pregnancy. The condition occurs when the placenta is damaged, or it doesn’t grow properly. Placental insufficiency is a blood flow disorder, in which there is a decrease in the mother’s blood supply. It may also occur when there isn’t a normal increase in the mother’s blood supply by the middle of her pregnancy.

When placental insufficiency develops, the baby doesn’t receive vital nutrients and sufficient oxygen from its mother’s bloodstream. The baby cannot then grow and thrive within the womb. This can cause some serious complications for the baby, as well as the mother. Placental insufficiency must be diagnosed and treated as early as possible for the health of both mother and child.

What Causes Placental Insufficiency?

Numerous causes and risk factors can cause placental insufficiency to develop during pregnancy. Unfortunately, there aren’t any outward symptoms of the condition that may alert expectant mothers that anything is wrong. For such a serious complication, this is not good news. Doctors must be thorough in obtaining a pregnant woman’s medical history and in carefully monitoring women who have any of the risk factors present.

The most common risk factors and causes associated with placental insufficiency include:

  • Diabetes
  • Preeclampsia
  • Blood clotting in the mother
  • Mothers who take blood thinner medication
  • Smoking or taking illegal drugs during pregnancy

What Are The Risks Of Placental Insufficiency?

The dangers associated with placental insufficiency can be severe for mothers and life-threatening for babies. Typically, mothers are not at risk of death when placental insufficiency occurs, but preeclampsia, a condition that causes very high blood pressure, protein in the urine, abnormal weight gain, edema, and severe headaches, can increase the risk.

Other common risks to mothers when placental insufficiency develops include:

  • Premature contractions and bleeding
  • Placental abruption
  • Premature labor and delivery
  • Increased chances of needing an emergency C-section
  • Infections
  • Blood clotting
  • Post-term pregnancy

For the baby, placental insufficiency can be fatal, especially when it develops early in the pregnancy. Other risks to the baby include:

  • Insufficient flow of oxygen during labor and delivery
  • Low blood sugar
  • Hypothermia
  • Excessive red blood cell count
  • Intrauterine growth restriction (IUGR)
  • Brain damage
  • Gastrointestinal issues
  • Lung dysfunction

Diagnosing and Treating Placental Insufficiency

The sooner that placental insufficiency is diagnosed, the better off mother and baby are. That’s why mothers must receive high-quality prenatal care. Typically, receiving a diagnosis of placental insufficiency comes as a result of multiple diagnostic tests including:

  • Ultrasound imaging – This allows doctors to view the development and estimated measurements of the placenta, as well as the size of the baby.
  • Blood work – These tests allow doctors to see if there are abnormal levels of alpha-fetoprotein, a protein that is produced by the baby’s liver.
  • Fetal stress testing – This test measures the baby’s heart rate and other indicators of distress.

Unfortunately, there isn’t currently a treatment that cures placental insufficiency. However, when mothers and babies are carefully monitored and managed by their physicians, it can help minimize the potential effects of the condition. If placental insufficiency develops late in the pregnancy, after 35 weeks, then typically a C-section is the best option. When it develops early in the pregnancy, as most cases of placental insufficiency do, effective management of the condition relies largely on early diagnosis.

When Is Placental Insufficiency Medical Malpractice?

OB/GYNs must properly diagnose placental insufficiency or other conditions that may cause it. If they fail to do so, it may be grounds for a medical malpractice case if the baby suffers injuries as a result. Unfortunately, many cases of placental insufficiency are not properly diagnosed, even when there are fairly obvious signs or risk factors present that prenatal testing would detect.

More often, medical malpractice associated with placental insufficiency occurs due to the negligent management of the pregnancy after the condition is identified. Many of these types of cases involve claims that the doctor didn’t opt to deliver a baby sooner as a response to placental insufficiency, and the baby suffered injuries as a result.

Get Help From An Experienced Placental Insufficiency Attorney

Lawsuits that involve medical claims like placental insufficiency are complicated and may be difficult to prove. That’s why it’s so important that victims of malpractice find experienced birth injury attorneys who have extensive knowledge of placental insufficiency.

At Ross Feller Casey, our lawyers have that knowledge and experience. Our staff also includes a team of medical doctors to review medical records and advise our attorneys.

If you suffered from placental insufficiency and injuries resulted, you might be entitled to compensation for your damages. Our attorneys have helped many families who suffered harm as a result of placental insufficiency get the compensation they deserved for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other expenses.

Contact Ross Feller Casey today to schedule your free case evaluation. All our medical malpractice cases are handled on a contingency basis, which means there is no charge to you until there’s a financial recovery for your case.

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