Bowel Obstructions and Medical Malpractice
Bowel obstruction occurs when either the small or large intestine is partially or completely blocked. Common causes of blockage include scar tissue from prior abdominal surgery, hernias, tumors, or twisting or narrowing of the intestines. Symptoms of bowel obstruction include cramping and intermittent belly pain, nausea and vomiting, and a bloated belly. If the mechanical obstruction is cutting off the blood supply to the intestine, the pain will be constant and severe and emergency surgery may be required.
Failure to Diagnose Claims
Patients with bowel obstructions typically present to the
emergency room with sudden onset of belly pain. Belly pain, by itself, does not mean that the patient has a bowel obstruction, but the doctor is required to rule in or rule of the possibility of obstruction because the failure to diagnose and treat the condition can lead to a catastrophic outcome.
Malpractice claims typically arise when the doctor chooses not to order imaging studies to affirmatively rule in or rule out bowel obstruction or when the images are not interpreted correctly. Sending patients home with an undiagnosed and untreated bowel obstruction can lead to catastrophic outcomes, particularly for those patients with a complete bowel obstruction.
Failure to Treat Claims
When an obstruction is diagnosed, treatment depends on whether the obstruction is partial or complete.
Partial obstructions are typically treated conservatively by placement of a nasogastric tube to decompress the GI tract. The patient is also given fluids to correct dehydration and electolyte imbalance caused by vomiting. Patients are monitored closely for any signs or symptoms that the obstruction is worsening and may require surgery.
In cases of partial obstruction, malpractice claims can arise due to the failure to place a nasogastric tube to decompress the GI tract. Patients treated for partial obstruction often receive narcotic medications and are at risk for aspiration pneumonia if they are insensate due to the narcotics and aspirate due to the obstruction. The NG tube minimizes the risk of aspiration. Other acts of malpractice include failing to resuscitate the patient with fluids to correct dehydration and electrolyte imbalances or failing to monitor the patient closely for signs and symptoms of complete obstruction and the need for emergency surgical treatment.
Complete obstructions typically require emergency surgery to correct the obstruction. Because complete obstructions often involve the cutting off of blood supply to the intestine, the intestine will sometimes have dead or damaged tissue that needs to be removed. Depending on the amount of intestine removed, the patient may need an a temporary or permanent ileostomy or colostomy to remove waste from the GI tract.
Malpractice claims in cases involving complete obstruction typically arise from either the failure to diagnose the obstruction or the failure to take the patient to surgery emergently to correct the obstruction. When treatment is delayed, more bowel tissue will die and need to be removed and the risk of perforation of the intestinal wall increases, putting the patient at risk for a potentially catastrophic infection. Patients who do not receive timely diagnosis and treatment of a complete obstruction are much more likely to lose more bowel, require a permanent ileostomy or colostomy, and develop a life-threatening infection (sepsis) that can lead to catastrophic and permanent injuries or death.
If you have suffered a catastrophic injury or lost a loved one due to improper care for a bowel obstruction, contact Bill Maddix, your Minnesota medical malpractice lawyer, for a free consultation.
Common Causes of Bowel Obstruction
Scar Tissue from prior abdominal surgery
Inflammatory bowel diseases
Twisting of the intestive
Telescoping of intestine
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