Failing to Diagnose Hydrocephalus

Hydrocephalus is a condition where there is a build-up of fluid in the brain. The fluid is cerebrospinal fluid (CSF), although a colloquial name for this condition is “water on the brain.” The build-up of this fluid leads to the widening of pathways in the brain through which the CSF normally flows. The expansion of the ventricles causes increasing pressure on brain tissue and ultimately can lead to brain damage. When the balance between the flow and re-absorption of CSF is thrown off, the consequences are severe.

There are a number of causes of hydrocephalus, including genetic disorders, such as aqueduct Stenosis or Dandy-Walker Syndrome, or developmental disorders. A premature birth also may lead to hydrocephalus through intraventricular hemorrhage. Certain tumors, abscesses, arachnoid cysts, meningitis, or a traumatic brain injury also may lead to the development of this medical condition.

A patient with hydrocephalus may show the following signs of the medical condition:

  • Nausea and vomiting;
  • Vision problems;
  • Loss of balance or coordination;
  • Incontinence;
  • Drowsiness or lethargy;
  • Personality changes;
  • Memory loss;
  • Cognitive impairment; and
  • Seizures.

When an infant suffers from hydrocephalus, it might present with a rapidly expanding head circumference at the regular wellness check-ups. An infant also may experience vomiting, lethargy, irritability, deviation of the eyes in a downward position, and seizures.

When a patient goes to a doctor with symptoms that are indicative of hydrocephalus, the doctor should make a definitive diagnosis through the use of a CT scan, MRI, ultrasonography, or the utilization of pressure-monitoring techniques. The type of diagnostic tool selected will depend on the age of the patient, the clinical presentation (what signs and symptoms are shown), and what spinal cord or brain abnormalities are known to be present or are suspected.

A patient who has hydrocephalus usually is treated by the surgical insertion of a shunt system, which acts to divert the CSF from the ventricular cavity in the brain to other areas of the body where its re-absorption is possible. The shunt system, often a ventricular peritoneal shunt, is comprised of tubing, catheters, a pressure activated valve, and a reservoir for the doctor to be able to take samples of the CSF once the shunt has been surgically implanted in the patient. The shunt is inserted into the brain with a pressure valve inserted into the patient’s scalp that functions to open the catheter and tubing in the lateral ventricle and drain the fluid when the CSF build-up reaches a specific pressure. The drainage of the CSF into the peritoneum allows it to be reabsorbed through the normal process of the body’s circulatory system. This decreases the fluid build-up in the brain.

A failure to diagnose a patient who has presented with symptoms indicative of hydrocephalus may lead to cognitive impairment and even death. However, a patient also may suffer severe harm if a doctor fails to properly monitor the shunt system and react to problems as soon as they occur. The shunt system may fail for a variety of reasons, including movement of the catheter, blockage of the catheter, and infection at the insertion site. A patient with a malfunctioning shunt may experience nausea and vomiting, severe headaches, loss of balance or coordination, and lethargy. When a doctor does not diagnose the initial condition or symptoms of a malfunctioning shunt, it is often medical malpractice.

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Medical malpractice cases require a high level of skill and experience because it is necessary to understand how to find the relevant information in the piles of documents that will be produced once a claim is filed. The knowledgeable medical malpractice attorneys at Peter Thompson & Associates know how to build a strong case while never forgetting that the client is the most important part of the process. We will work with you to develop the strategy that best meets your specific needs. The schedule a free initial case evaluation, call us at (800) 804-2004.

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