If you or a family member suffered a catastrophic injury due to a doctor’s delayed diagnosis of a spinal epidural abscess, or failure to diagnose the condition, speak to the McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt team of medical malpractice lawyers at 1-800-590-4116.
About Spinal Epidural Abscess
Epidurals are most commonly used during childbirth, but their usage extends far beyond just providing pain relief for pregnancies. There is a serious risk to patients who undergo this procedure, and between 2007 to 2011 there were over 28 claims related to spinal epidural abscesses (SEAs) that resulted in millions of dollars being paid out through lawsuits.
The epidural itself is the outermost part of the spinal canal, and it contains fatty tissues, arteries, lymphatics, connective tissue as well as spinal nerve roots. Spinal epidural abscesses occur when physicians improperly administer a spinal epidural, which leaves the patient open to developing an infection, or abscess, within their epidural.
A spinal epidural abscess is an accumulation of pus in the epidural space. Essentially, it is a bacterial infection in or near the spinal cord. If not treated, it can lead to traumatic back pain, neurological issues and death. It is usually diagnosed with the assistance of a MRI. If caught early, it is treated with antibiotics. In most cases of delayed treatment, surgical decompression is required immediately.
The diagnosis of the disease is easiest when a patient presents with fever, spine pain and neurologic deficits. However, only a small percentage of patients initially present with all three symptoms.
Medical Malpractice Lawsuits for Spinal Epidural Abscess
Medical malpractice can be the basis of a lawsuit in Pennsylvania when a healthcare professional breaches the standard of care. The standard of care is what other similarly situated professionals would do for a similarly situated patient. As a result, the standard does not require a doctor to provide perfect treatment. Instead, they will be liable only for harms that result from failing to treat a patient as other doctors would in the circumstances.
The literature about the infection discusses four common stages. First, the patient has local back pain and possibly a fever. Second, the patient has radiating nerve root pain. Third, the patient experiences motor weakness and bladder/bowel dysfunction. Finally, the patient experiences paralysis.
Outcomes for patients with a spinal epidural abscess are best when a patient is diagnosed early and invasive surgery can be avoided. However, for many reasons, doctors may misdiagnose a patient at this stage.
For a medical malpractice lawsuit to be viable in cases of spinal epidural abscess, there needs to be a point in time where the majority of doctors would conclude that the patient has this condition and there is still time for the doctor to intervene and prevent the severe medical conditions that result from delayed treatment. If this window is not present in a case, it will be difficult to justify the expense of pursuing a medical malpractice lawsuit.
This is most commonly an excess collection of pus within the spinal cord, and the medical damages and health risks from not identifying and diagnosing this type of issue are extremely costly.
Early Diagnosis By A Physician is Crucial For Patients Suffering from SEA
The early diagnosis of an SEA is vital for the recovery of the patient. Studies have shown that while a SEA is an uncommon condition – if patients are not diagnosed and seeking treatment within 36 hours of developing the disease, they are at an increased risk of developing paralysis, paraplegia, quadriplegia, and even death.
Generally, proper diagnostics include running an MRI or Myelography followed by a CT scan in the event the hospital or doctor’s office does not have the required equipment.
Taking the symptoms of a potential SEA seriously, and providing the proper diagnosis is crucial in preventing unneeded injury to patients.
What Are The Symptoms of a Spinal Epidural Abscess
One of the most common symptoms of an SEA is acute back pain not caused by injury (atraumatic), and this is a symptom that will increase in severity as the infection progresses. Often patients report worse symptoms when lying down.
In addition to back pain, other symptoms include:
- A sudden and severe onset of pain
- Loss of control of bladder or bowel function
- Paralysis below the area of the abscess
- Rapidly progressing weakness
- Loss of sensation around the abscess area
Spinal Epidural Abscesses are Commonly Misdiagnosed
The damage and health risks from a misdiagnosed SEA are incredible and as MD John Nelson describes they cause a huge liability for the doctors and hospitals involved. As John states below, this is a very “sneaky” illness and very easy to confuse:
“Delays in diagnosis of SEA are common. It can be a very sneaky illness that in the early stages is very easy to confuse with less-serious causes of back pain or fever. […] I had a patient who reported an increase in his usual back pain. I felt reassured that he had no neurologic deficit or fever […] He had a significant SEA and went to emergency surgery. I was stunned.”
The difficulty in properly diagnosing SEAs is what led them to be one of the most high-liability illnesses that hospitals are dealing with today. The health risks from a misdiagnosis are so damaging, that indemnity payouts for SEAs on average are more than double compared to other misdiagnosis related lawsuits.
What Do I Do If I Or A Loved One Has Suffered From An SEA?
With over 30 years of experience in personal injury law, McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt has the knowledge and expertise to fully evaluate your situation and defend your legal interests.
Spinal Epidural Abscesses can be devastating to a person’s career and livelihood, and if you suspect you or a loved one developed this condition due to the negligence and misdiagnosis of a physician or doctor, we can help you get justice for your injuries.
About McEldrew Young Purtell Merritt
Our Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers will evaluate cases of failure to diagnose or delayed diagnosis of spinal epidural abscess for the presence of a point in time where the doctor could have diagnosed the condition as well as prevented the severe consequences that resulted with treatment. To do so, our attorneys evaluate the medical records and consult with experts in the field to determine the standard of care under the unique circumstances of the case.
Jim McEldrew is a Past President of the Philadelphia Trial Lawyers Association with thirty years of experience evaluating and prosecuting medical malpractice lawsuits. For a free initial consultation with Jim McEldrew or one of our other trial lawyers, please call 1-800-590-4116.