Consequences of Negligently Placed Shunts
Shunt systems save lives for patients with hydrocephalus. This condition can be caused by infections such as meningitis, stroke, head trauma, traumatic brain injury, or genetic disorders. It involves a buildup of cerebrospinal fluid in the brain, which can result in extreme pressure and irreversibly damaged brain tissue.
The usual treatment for hydrocephalus is surgical insertion of a shunt system to re-route excess cerebrospinal fluid to another area of the body where it can be reabsorbed. Medical negligence can contribute to shunt injury in several different ways.
How Can Medical Negligence Cause Injury with Shunt Systems for Hydrocephalus?
Some complications with shunt systems are preventable. Medical negligence with hydrocephalus shunts may involve:
Delay in Diagnosing And Treating Infections
Babies with hydrocephalus shunt systems are particularly susceptible to infection because of their immature immune systems. In infants, older children, and adults, infection can occur at the surgical site, in the cerebrospinal fluid, or at the shunt itself. Early symptoms of shunt infection may include headache, fever, and a sore neck. The condition can become life-threatening if early signs of infection are missed.
Shunts inserted to treat hydrocephalus can malfunction and fail. Shunt blockage is a common problem during the first two months after surgery. Blockages may be caused by incorrect placement of catheters. They can cause the shunt to function intermittently or not at all. Other possible mechanical problems include a catheter that is too short, breaks, or disconnects from the valve, or an incorrect or broken valve. When symptoms of blockage or other shunt malfunctions occur, it is imperative that doctors diagnose and treat the problem immediately to prevent brain damage or death.
Failure to Properly Monitor the Patient
Under or over drainage can occur with shunt systems for fluid on the brain. When the cerebrospinal fluid drains faster than it is produced, it can cause the ventricles (fluid-filled cavities in the center of the brain) to collapse, which can lead to bleeding in the brain. If the fluid drains too slowly, pressure can build up and cause irreversible damage to brain tissues. With a programmable valve, if the shunt is still capable of flow, the doctor may be able to adjust the setting to avoid surgery. Shunt surgery patients require careful monitoring during and after surgery. When doctors or nurses miss early signs of problems with shunt drainage, it can have devastating consequences for the patient.
What Are the Symptoms of Shunt Malfunction?
When a shunt malfunctions, the symptoms may be obvious or more subtle. Obvious symptoms may include redness in the area over the shunt, nausea or vomiting, headaches, and visual changes. More subtle symptoms may include changes in behavior or performance. When one or more of the symptoms of hydrocephalus that were present before the shunt was placed return, shunt malfunction should be evaluated immediately. Doctors should order further testing and shunt revision surgery if necessary. Failure to diagnose and treat shunt malfunction could be a case of medical negligence.
How Is Shunt Infection Treated?
The standard treatment for shunt infection is surgical removal of the hardware. An external ventricular drain is surgically placed to control hydrocephalus during the removal surgery and while the infection is being treated. The patient remains in the hospital while being treated with antibiotics.
If you or your loved one has suffered shunt complications due to medical negligence, your best course of action is to speak with a Denver medical malpractice attorney. At Leventhal Puga Braley P.C., we have a history of success recovering verdicts and settlements for victims of medical malpractice. Call us at (303) 759-9945 or toll-free at (877) 433-3906 to find out how we can help.