Medico-Legal Implications of High Blood Pressure During Pregnancy


There are several conditions that mothers may develop during their pregnancy, all of which can adversely affect the health and well being of the mother or her baby if left undiagnosed and not properly treated. One of these conditions is called “pre-eclampsia” or “pregnancy induced high blood pressure or hypertension.” This condition, which has been said to affect between 5 to 8 percent of all pregnancies (by some authorities), if unrecognized and untreated, can result in serious consequences.

The signs that are classically associated with pregnancy induced hypertension, or pre-eclampsia, are (1) high blood pressure and (2) protein in the urine. Other symptoms may include (1) scotoma or visual issues, (2) reduced urine output, (3) nausea, (4) vomiting, (5) abdominal pain, or (5) headache. The presentations by the patients to the doctors vary, and some women may only have a very few of these symptoms. Atypical presentations may be more difficult to diagnose and can require an experienced physician’s review. Once diagnosed, the treatment for pre-eclampsia may include delivery of the baby and/or medication with magnesium sulfate.

While treatment for this condition reduces the risk of an adverse outcome, if left untreated, pre-eclampsia can result in the mother having a seizure, a condition commonly referred to as eclampsia. Pre-eclampsia can also place the mother at risk for stroke, impaired kidney or liver function, fluid on the lungs and even death. Because of its effect on the placenta and its blood flow, pre-eclampsia may impact the health of the baby as well as the mother. It can result in a premature delivery, cause a lack of oxygen to the baby’s brain, or result in the infant’s death.

Proper pre-natal care can prevent this condition from having devastating consequences. Pre-natal visits should include a blood pressure check and a urine test to see if there is evidence of protein. If pre-eclampsia develops late in the pregnancy the baby can be delivered thereby controlling the pregnancy induced high blood pressure. If pre-eclampsia develops early in the pregnancy, the mother may be placed on bed rest while efforts are made to reduce the mother’s blood pressure through other means.

While pre-eclampsia will often develop gradually it can, in some cases, appear suddenly. While usually appearing during the third trimester of the pregnancy, it can develop earlier in the pregnancy and in some cases in the hours after delivery.

The failure to appreciate the signs of this condition in the patient, and to act to protect the mother and baby from its potentially devastating effects may constitute negligent care/medical malpractice. Physicians, residents, obstetrical nursing staff, and all others who provide care to the pregnant mother should be vigilant in monitoring for both the subtle and not so subtle signs of this disease and be prepared to take swift action.

If you or someone close to you has suffered an eclamptic seizure or had a child who was born with problems that may be related to pre-eclampsia, you may want to have the medical records of your care reviewed by an attorney who specializes in medical negligence and/or birth injury cases. These attorneys are familiar with the symptoms, proper care, and work with experts, including physicians, who can help evaluate whether the patient received sub-standard care or the medical provider committed malpractice.

About the author: Philadelphia medical malpractice attorneys Judy Greenwood & Stephen Ulan have represented victims of medical negligence and catastrophic injuries for 25 years. Their office is located at 1800 JFK Blvd., Suite 1500A, Phila., PA 19103,, email [email protected].

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