Fetal distress is an ill-defined term that provides a general way of stating that a fetus’s oxygen levels are lower than they should be — by sign of an irregular heartbeat — without giving any information about the cause of the problem. When a baby is in fetal distress, it’s important that a health care provider diagnose the cause of the distress and act quickly to treat it. He or she could be held liable for damages if fetal distress causes complications.
Understanding Fetal Distress
Fetal distress is an over-arching term that’s used to describe distress to a developing fetus, most notably low oxygen levels. As such, fetal distress is often used interchangeably with the term fetal asphyxia (lack of oxygen to a fetus), although doing so is incorrect. Because there are many causes of a lack of oxygen to a fetus’s brain, knowing exactly how to treat fetal distress can be confusing.
To avoid the misnomer of fetal hypoxia stated above, some have suggested that fetal distress be renamed to “non-reassuring fetal status.” In addition to low oxygen levels, non-reassuring fetal status would include fetal tachycardia, bradycardia, late decelerations, repetitive variable decelerations and low biophysical profile, according to AmericanPregnancy.org.
However, while the exact definition surrounding fetal distress may be up in the air, so to speak, the dangers of it are definitive — when a baby who suffers from fetal distress, particularly low oxygen levels, does not receive immediate treatment, the baby can suffer long-term effects.
The Long-term Effects of Fetal Distress Syndrome
If fetal distress is occurring because the baby is being deprived of oxygen, long-term complications may result if immediate action isn’t taken. When a baby’s brain is deprived of oxygen for an extended period of time, developmental delays and even a serious brain injury can occur. In fact, cerebral palsy is often associated with fetal distress syndrome. In addition to neurological injuries, fetal distress can cause death.
Detecting Fetal Distress
Fetal distress is detected through thorough monitoring of the fetus during labor and delivery. One of the most effective tools for diagnosing fetal distress is the use of electronic fetal heart rate (FHR) monitoring. FHR can help a health care provider recognize hypoxia (lack of oxygen) and monitor treatment for it. Treatment for hypoxia may include performing an emergency cesarean section, changing the mother’s position, giving the mother oxygen, inserting fluid into the amniotic cavity and more, depending upon the cause and severity of fetal distress. It is the duty of a health care provider both to diagnose and treat fetal distress syndrome in a timely manner — failing to do so is considered negligent.
When Fetal Distress Isn’t Diagnosed and Treated
When proper monitoring of a fetus isn’t performed, fetal distress syndrome may go undetected. And even if fetal distress syndrome is diagnosed, it may not be treated as it should be. When this happens, both mother and baby are in danger. The healthcare provider in charge of the labor and delivery may be held responsible in cases like these.
Healthcare providers have a duty to provide a high standard of care to their patients. This standard is established by the general practices of the medical community at large — if a healthcare provider fails to do his or her job as would another professional in a similar position and that failure leads to patient harm, then the healthcare provider is considered negligent and liable for the harm.
How a Medical Malpractice Attorney Can Help You Understand Your Rights
Those who have been harmed by a health care provider or have seen their children harmed because of negligence during childbirth — such as the failure to diagnose and treat fetal distress — have a right to compensation under the law. At Cordisco & Saile LLC, our attorneys can guide you through everything you need to know about your rights to damages and how to file a claim today. Call us now at 215-642-2335.