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Periventricular Leukomalacia: Is My Doctor at Fault?


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Giving birth is one of the most emotional and stressful times in any new parent’s life.  We all trust doctors, nurses, and assorted specialists to lead us through the process.  Unfortunately, these professionals may lead us astray. In the case of pregnancy and labor, inattention or mistakes can result in lifelong disabilities for the baby.

What Is Periventricular Leukomalacia?

Periventricular Leukomalacia, often abbreviated as PVL, is a common brain injury seen in newborns, especially those born prematurely.  It can be an intimidating diagnosis because of the complicated name, but we can help you further understand what PVL is, what causes it, symptoms you may see, and when you may be able to make a medical malpractice claim after a diagnosis.

To start, let’s break down the name itself.  We can separate the phrase into four parts:

  • Peri – a prefix meaning “around”

  • Ventricular – referring to a part of the brain called a “ventricle”

  • Leuko – a root meaning “white” or “light”

  • Malacia – in medical terms, softening of tissue where it should not occur

Put all these meanings together and you’ll get “a softening of white tissue around the ventricles.”  Doctors may use much more technical words to explain it, but the definition above gives a basic understanding of PVL.

What is the importance of these ventricles, and why does it matter that the tissue around them is softer?  The ventricles hold cerebrospinal fluid, and the white matter around them helps to control basic movement and facilitate communication.  If these brain cells face enough damage they will die, and the space they took up will fill with fluid.  This is the “softening” referred to in the name.  After this tissue is damaged, it cannot be repaired.

Causes of PVL

Though PVL is known as a common danger for prematurely born babies, babies carried to full term may also develop PVL.  Brain injuries can form quickly; in PVL’s case, even a short loss of oxygen or blood flow to the infant’s brain can cause permanent damage.  The symptoms and long-term effects of PVL may result depending on the length and severity of the oxygen deprivation.

When you go into labor, doctors use sensors to constantly monitor your and your baby’s health.  Drastic changes in vital signs signal the need for intervention.  In cases of PVL, the levels of oxygen reaching the infant’s brain and body can be determined by monitoring its heart rate.  When doctors hesitate or opt to stay the course in these situations, they may owe you for their negligence.  Failure to take action when irregularities present can cause harm that lasts a lifetime.

Identifying PVL in Infants

Many symptoms of PVL do not present in infants, and even when noticeable, these symptoms may be confused with markers of another disease.  Your infant may not have all, or even most of the below symptoms because PVL affects each child differently.  Here are some behaviors or conditions that may signal PVL:

  • Difficulty seeing or hearing, or complete loss of ability

  • Child is cross-eyed or cannot control their eyes (repetitive movement may result)

  • Muscles too tight to bend or flex

  • Quadriplegia

Further symptoms of cognitive or developmental impairment may surface as your child grows.  One common outcome is the onset of cerebral palsy.  If you suspect your baby may be suffering from PVL or a similar disease, ask your doctor about your next steps.  Brain imaging techniques, including MRIs, CT scans, and cranial ultrasounds, can help spot any abnormalities in brain growth.

Was My Baby’s PVL Caused by Medical Malpractice?

Though PVL can occur at any time, many fetuses develop the condition between weeks 24 and 36 of the pregnancy.  Premature babies born during this time frame face a high comparative likelihood of developing the condition regardless of doctor action or inaction.

Babies who are delivered on time and showed no previous signs of brain damage likely developed PVL or other brain injuries during the birth process.   If a baby’s access to oxygen was cut off during birth, they may have exhibited symptoms such as low heart rate, weak breathing, pale skin, or acidosis.  These symptoms can be an indication of medical malpractice and may make you eligible for compensation.

Contact us online or call (248) 286-8100 for a free consult on your infant’s medical difficulties.