January 25, 2020
According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), placenta accreta is a deadly pregnancy condition that occurs when the placenta grows too deeply into the uterine wall. Despite being regarded as rare, data shows that placenta accreta is actually on the rise. In the 1970s and 80s, the condition occurred at approximately 1 in every several thousand births – but today, studies suggest the number is closer to every 1 in 270.
The placenta is an organ that develops during pregnancy in order to provide nutrients and oxygen to the fetus. It also filters out contaminants and other waste products from the baby’s bloodstream. Normally, the placenta detaches from the uterine wall after childbirth. But with placenta accreta, which the ACOG refers to as just one condition on the “placenta accreta spectrum,” the placenta stays attached inside the body instead.
There are two other dangerous placental conditions on the spectrum: placenta percreta (where the placenta grows entirely into the uterine wall) and placenta increta, where the placenta grows directly into the uterine muscles. While all three of the placental conditions can cause serious, potentially fatal medical complications, placenta accreta is the only one with increasing incidence rates. Certain risk factors make it more likely to experience placenta accreta, such as:
- Being over 35-years-old,
- Smoking cigarettes,
- Having a history of placenta previa (a condition in which the placenta lies low in the uterus, covering all or part of the cervix), and:
- A history of C-section or uterine surgery
The more quickly placenta accreta is diagnosed, the better a pregnant woman’s health outcome is likely to be. Sadly, the ACOG still reports a high number of undiagnosed cases. The organization believes that a large part of the problem is that providers are failing to give patients referrals to specialists experienced in reading ultrasound results. Placenta accreta typically shows warning signs before childbirth, such as bulging of the placenta into the bladder, increased blood flow to the uterine wall and placenta, collections of blood in the placenta (also known as placental lakes), and the inability to visualize the normal uterine wall behind the placenta (during an ultrasound).
One of the main reasons that placenta accreta is so important to catch early is because it can cause several life threatening medical complications, like:
- Severe hemorrhage, or bleeding, after delivery,
- Disseminated intravascular coagulopathy, a condition that prevents the blood from clotting normally,
- Lung failure, and:
- Kidney failure
If after screening and testing a specialist observes the early warning signs of placenta accreta, he or she can prepare the delivery room for potential problems. A woman who experiences blood loss as a result of placenta accreta, for example, may require a blood transfusion; an experienced and informed obstetrician would have blood transfusion products available for a high-risk patient of this type. Several women who have experienced placenta accreta say their provider failed to warn them of the risk of developing the condition again in future pregnancies – and some even say their doctors failed to diagnose them with the deadly condition for months on end.
A lack of awareness can be dangerous and deadly, as it has proven to be with placenta accreta (data indicates that approximately 7% of women with placenta accreta die from severe blood loss.) Increasing awareness of the condition is critical in order to reduce the preventable injuries and deaths that are associated with it. Pregnancy may be exciting, but it can also be a confusing and scary time for future moms. Expectant mothers should be able to rely on their obstetricians for honest, informed, and safe medical opinions to guide them through their pregnancies.
Medical providers are legally obligated to provide a certain standard of care, and when an individual is injured as a result of medical negligence (or the failure to practice within the accepted standard of care) the injured party may be able to file a medical malpractice claim. If you would like to learn more about filing a medical malpractice claim or if you have questions about an injury you sustained because of a negligent provider, someone at our firm can help. Please contact a representative directly.
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