Medical Malpractice Resulting in Anoxic Brain Damage

The effects of brain damage can range from mild symptoms to extreme and lasting disability. This makes understanding the signs, symptoms, and best treatment practices for this type of brain injury imperative. Unfortunately, brain injuries quickly become exacerbated when a physician does not provide proper treatment. Failed treatment can result in what is known as an anoxic brain injury, which is a condition wherein oxygen is restricted or completely cut off to the brain.

What are Anoxic brain injuries?

Anoxic brain injuries, also called hypoxic brain injuries, are distinctly different from traumatic brain injuries. Anoxia is caused by a partial or complete lack of oxygen being delivered to the brain. Within four minutes of oxygen deprivation, brain cells begin to die, which makes the treatment of this type of brain injury an emergent condition, requiring immediate care.

Causes of Anoxic Brain Damage

There are four distinct classes of anoxic brain injury, each with a different cause.

  • Anemic Anoxia: caused by breathing conditions such as asthma or pneumonia.
  • Toxic Anoxia: caused by carbon monoxide poisoning.
  • Stagnant Anoxia: caused by strokes, cardiac arrhythmia, or cardiac arrest.
  • Anoxic Anoxia: caused by lack of oxygen in the air, or by sudden choking or drowning.

Treating Anoxia

With a wide variety of causes and varying levels of severity, there are several treatment options for anoxia. The initial job of the physician is to determine the cause of anoxia and decide on the best course of action. All treatments for anoxia aim to restore a normal heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen supply to the brain.

If the anoxic episode is extreme, resulting in an extended coma of 12 hours or more, the patient will more than likely be treated in an intensive care unit. The patient may require medication to regulate blood pressure and heart rate. Seizures are common after an anoxic brain injury, they can be prolonged and at times and difficult to bring under control.The injured patient will have the best outcome in a specialized neurology department. This is a stage of critical illness and the full range of emergent, intensive care support is needed to provide the best chances of survival and the best possible outcome.

“Therapeutic hypothermia,” also known as cooling, is a controversial treatment which may aid recovery. There is some evidence that the cooling process can protect the brain by decreasing its need for oxygen and energy and helping to slow down the death of brain cells during the treatment process.

Lasting Effects of Anoxic Brain Injury

People who have suffered anoxic brain damage may experience:

  • Poorer performance in executive functioning
  • Inability to find the correct words
  • Visual and general sensory disturbances
  • Short term memory loss
  • Changes in personality
  • Loss of motor function

The lasting effects of improperly treating an anoxic brain injury can permeate all areas of an injured patients life. Unlike a localized injury to the body, a broken arm, for example, an injury to the brain affects all bodily systems. This makes the treatment of these injuries all the more serious.

Is it Malpractice?

Sometimes a patient suffers an anoxic brain injury and there is nothing a doctor could have done to prevent the injury. However, if the injury was caused by a medical professional’s failure to follow the standard of care, there may be legal recourse.

Healthcare providers can be held liable for malpractice if they fail to diagnose, treat, or provide the appropriate care for a patient suffering from an anoxic brain injury. They also may be held liable for or failing to treat the condition in an emergent or timely manner.

Miller & Wagner is recognized as a pre-eminent medical malpractice law firm, representing injured patients in communities throughout Oregon and Washington.

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