San Antonio Epidural Malpractice Lawyers
Anesthesia is arguably one of the best modern medical interventions we have at our disposal. Anesthesia can be used in almost any type of painful medical procedure such as surgeries, tooth extractions, and more. An epidural is one of many types of anesthesia. While epidurals are most commonly used during labor and delivery, they can also be used during specific types of surgeries too. Just like any type of anesthesia or medical procedure, epidurals come with their fair share of risks and complications during the birth process. Although most laboring women experience great relief from their epidural, others may experience major epidural injuries that can lead to lifelong pain and disability. In rare cases, epidural malpractice can even lead to birth injuries. Our San Antonio medical malpractice lawyers explain this and more below.
If you have suffered a major epidural error during labor and delivery, you may have grounds to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. The experienced legal team at Janicek Law can help victims of epidural malpractice recover damages for medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and so much more. Call 210-366-4949 to schedule a free consultation at our law firm today.
What is an Epidural?
An epidural is a medical procedure that can provide pain relief in the lower body. The procedure involves injecting an anesthetic or a steroid into the “epidural space” of the spinal cord, which is a set of spinal nerves in the lumbar spine. Medical professionals also refer to epidurals as:
- Neuraxial anesthesia
- Regional anesthesia
- Epidural steroid injections (ESI)
- Epidural block
- Epidural anesthesia
Epidurals are most commonly used as pain management during labor and delivery. However, health care providers also use epidurals during specific types of surgeries as well as for chronic pain relief after surgery.
Who Administers an Epidural?
Administering any form of anesthesia requires extensive training. Anesthesiologists or certified registered nurse anesthetists generally administer most forms of anesthesia.
How Does an Epidural Work?
Firstly, let’s break down how pain signals work in the body. There are 31 pairs of spinal nerves and roots that branch out from the spinal cord. When you suffer a serious injury in any part of the body, the nerves in that area send the pain signal to the spinal cord and the brain.
A medical professional will inject the epidural medication into the nerves in the lumbar spine. Again, the injection site is called the “epidural space.” So during birth, for example, the epidural injection basically stops the pain signals in the lower body from reaching the spinal cord and the brain.
Epidural injections can temporarily relieve pain or it can temporarily numb the entire lower half of the body. The amount of pain relief that someone may experience from a spinal block depends on a few factors:
- The type of pain medication your medical professional injects,
- The pain medication dosage,
- And the pain medication concentration.
Why Epidurals Don’t Always Work
Epidurals during labor and delivery have an average success rate of 98% to 99% according to a 2008 study. However, there are times when the epidural fails, and the pregnant woman has no choice but to give birth with little to no pain relief. But why don’t epidurals always work? The same study states that these are the main reasons:
- There was an epidural error in which the catheter wasn’t placed correctly in the epidural space.
- The patient had abnormal neuraxial anatomy (AKA: abnormalities in the spinal cord, ventral nerve roots, and cerebrospinal fluid).
- The patient’s labor progressed far quicker than the anesthesiologist expected so it was too late to administer the epidural.
- The epidural block didn’t take effect in time before the patient entered the last stage of labor and delivery.
Epidural Analgesia vs. Epidural Anesthesia
There are two main types of epidurals: epidural analgesia and epidural anesthesia. The former can relieve pain without making the patient lose consciousness or complete sensation in the lower half of their body. It’s used during labor and delivery so that the woman experiences pain relief from the contractions, but she is still conscious and able to move her lower body. Oftentimes pregnant women can still feel the pressure and tugging from birth in the lower half of their bodies, just not the pain.
Meanwhile, the latter creates a complete loss of sensation in the lower half of the body. Anesthetic pain relievers – such as local or general anesthesia – cause the patient to lose consciousness. But epidural anesthesia allows the patient to stay conscious but have no sensation in their lower body at all. This type of anesthesia is often used during certain types of surgeries.
Types of Labor and Delivery Epidurals and How They’re Delivered
As previously stated, pregnant women usually receive epidural analgesia during labor and delivery. But there are a couple different ways that this type of epidural is delivered, and we explain this below.
- Epidural Catheter: The most common way that laboring women receive pain relief is through an epidural catheter. The medical professional will insert a long epidural needle into the lower back in order to place the catheter. The catheter remains in place for the duration of the birthing process so that the woman can keep receiving medication if she needs it.
- Combined Spinal Epidural (CSE): Another common type of epidural used during labor and delivery is the CSE. It’s also commonly known as the “walking epidural” because many women still have enough sensation in their lower half to change positions and walk around. It’s basically two injections: the spinal block and the epidural itself. The CSE is a faster form of pain relief, but at a lower dose than the epidural catheter.
How Many Women Receive Epidurals During Labor and Delivery?
According to a 2022 medical report, nearly 75% of pregnant women receive an epidural injection during labor and delivery.
Epidural Risks and Complications
Just like all other medical procedures, receiving an epidural can come with a long list of risks and side effects. While this method of pain relief is generally safe – especially with a competent and experienced health care provider – patients can experience the following issues:
- Major drops in blood pressure which can lead to lightheadedness.
- Infections from the epidural including meningitis, osteomyelitis, discitis, or an epidural abscess.
- Spinal fluid leakage which often causes a severe headache. This is a rare complication, affecting less than 1% of people according to the Cleveland Clinic.
- General negative reactions to the pain medication such as rashes and hot flashes.
- Accidental blood vessel damage during the epidural injection which can lead to excessive bleeding and/or blood clots.
- Temporary back pain or tenderness at the injection site.
- A temporary or permanent nerve injury at the epidural injection site.
- A temporary loss of bowel control or bladder control.
- In very rare cases: death.
Epidural risks and side effects specifically related to laboring women include:
- The second stage of labor may slow down after the epidural is administered.
- Depending on how much sensation you have in the lower half of your body, you may struggle to change positions, walk, or even push. If this happens, the doctor may resort to forceps, a vacuum extractor, or an emergency c-section.
- There is a possibility that the epidural might not work.
Can Epidurals Lead to Long-Term Complications?
Yes, there are rare cases of epidural injection injuries causing lifelong pain and complications, including:
- Permanent nerve damage
- Long-term, severe pain in the lower back or lower extremities
- Permanent paralysis if the epidural injection causes a collection of blood between the dura mater and the spinal cord
Can Epidural Errors Cause Birth Injuries?
Yes, epidural malpractice can increase the risk of birth injuries. As previously stated, epidural injections can slow down the second stage of labor, which can lead to fetal distress. Additionally, some women experience a complete lack of sensation in their lower bodies, making it difficult to change positions and push during labor. If this happens, doctors may resort to using forceps or vacuum extractors in order to pull the baby out of the vaginal canal. These birthing instruments can lead to a variety of birth injuries, such as cerebral palsy, hypoxic ischemic encephalopathy (HIE), cephalohematoma, infant skull fractures, brachial plexus injuries, and more.
If your baby suffered a birth injury due to a doctor’s negligence, then you have grounds to contact a San Antonio medical malpractice attorney at Janicek Law. We can help you recover compensation through a birth injury lawsuit.
Can You Sue for an Epidural Error?
While major epidural injuries are rare, they do happen. And yes, patients can definitely sue for severe injuries caused by medical errors. Epidural errors and injuries are a subset of medical malpractice, so patients can file a medical malpractice lawsuit in order to receive financial compensation.
If you do decide to file an epidural lawsuit, you will need an experienced medical malpractice lawyer from Janicek Law on your side. We can help by protecting your legal rights and proving negligence in your case.
Most personal injury cases – including medical malpractice cases – involve the legal theory of negligence. So in order to build the strongest medical malpractice case possible, you must prove the four elements of negligence listed below:
- Duty of Care: Every single medical professional must follow a strict medical standard of care and do no harm. In other words, all medical professionals must provide a compassionate, quality, and competent level of care to their patients.
- Breached Duty of Care: The medical professional breached this duty of care by causing their patient an epidural injury.
- Causation: The patient suffered serious disabilities, pain, or injuries as a result of the epidural error.
- Damages: The patient suffered a variety of damages as a result of their epidural injury for which they should receive fair financial compensation.
Our experienced lawyers can help you prove these elements of negligence in your epidural lawsuit through medical records, witness statements, personal journal entries, and more. Additionally, we will hire an expert medical witness to analyze the details of your case and determine whether your medical professional failed to meet the medical standard of care.
Damages for Epidural Malpractice
A San Antonio medical malpractice attorney at Janicek Law can help you recover financial compensation for the following types of damages:
- Past and future medical bills
- Past and future rehabilitative bills
- Lost wages
- Loss of earning capacity if the epidural malpractice resulted in permanent nerve damage/disability which prevents you from completing your normal job duties
- Physical pain and suffering
- Emotional distress
- Mental health counseling bills
- Permanent disability
- Loss of consortium
- Funeral and burial cases if the epidural malpractice resulted in wrongful death