Misdiagnosed Ectopic and Molar Pregnancy

When these conditions are not identified and remedied, it could be malpractice.


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Misdiagnosed molar and ectopic pregnancies can devastate a woman’s health and affect her ability to bear children in the future. Misdiagnosis of these conditions can also result in the premature termination of an otherwise viable fetus. Early diagnosis and treatment of molar and ectopic pregnancies is essential. The discovery and treatment of molar and ectopic pregnancies should be a relatively routine matter if your OB/GYN takes the proper course of prenatal care.

If your OB/GYN misdiagnoses a molar or ectopic pregnancy, you may have a viable medical malpractice claim, particularly if it results in sterility or the termination of a viable pregnancy. Read on to learn more.

What is Molar Pregnancy?

A molar pregnancy (also know as hydatidiform mole) occurs when, instead of a fetus, a tumor develops in the uterus. The growth of the tumor triggers symptoms that are very similar to pregnancy, despite the fact that there is no embryo in the womb. Molar pregnancies result from problems with the genetic material transmitted by an egg or sperm. There are two major types of molar pregnancies: complete molar pregnancy or partial molar pregnancy.

A complete molar pregnancy occurs when an egg that does not have any genetic information is fertilized by normal sperm. In this situation, the fertilized egg cannot become a fetus due to the absence of half the necessary genetic material. However, the sperm will continue to grow into a tumor on its own. As the tumor continues to grow, it begins to fill the uterus in the same manner as a fetus would.

A partial molar pregnancy occurs when a normal egg is fertilized by two sperm. In this situation, the placenta (the organ that develops to support a fetus) becomes the tumor. Partial molar pregnancies can result in the growth of an actual fetus, but the chances of the fetus not having severe defects are extremely slim.

Molar pregnancies are more common in the following groups of women: women over 35, women with a history of molar pregnancy or pregnancies, women with a history of miscarriage, and women with insufficient amounts of carotene, which is a form of vitamin A.

Molar pregnancies should be discovered through pelvic exams, blood tests or routine pelvic ultrasounds that are part of any appropriate course of pre-natal care. There are multiple indicators of molar pregnancies, all of which doctors should be able to recognize as a matter of course. In some cases, molar pregnancies are not discovered until a miscarriage occurs.

Misdiagnosis of Molar Pregnancy

There are two ways molar pregnancies can be misdiagnosed: either the molar pregnancy is misdiagnosed altogether, or a normal pregnancy is improperly determined to be a molar pregnancy. The result is that either a potentially life-threatening and fertility-threatening condition is allowed to persist, or a viable pregnancy is terminated. In both situations, it is entirely possible that the treating physician breached the relevant medical standard of care and may be liable for medical malpractice.

What is Ectopic Pregnancy?

An ectopic pregnancy is a pregnancy that occurs when a fertilized egg implants outside the uterus. Common areas where the ectopic pregnancy may occur are the fallopian tubes, the abdomen, on the cervix or on an ovary. Unlike a complete molar pregnancy, an ectopic pregnancy does involve a properly fertilized egg that would likely be viable if implanted in the uterus.

Diagnosing an ectopic pregnancy normally involves a combination of bloodwork, ultrasounds and careful consideration of a woman’s symptoms. While women with ectopic pregnancies can exhibit some of the same symptomology as those with normal pregnancies, there are some warning signs -- such as bleeding, swelling or abdominal pain. Women who have had previous ectopic pregnancies, STDs, use an IUD or have used fertility drugs are at a higher risk of ectopic pregnancy. All of these factors should be taken into consideration by an OB/GYN.

Misdiagnosis of Ectopic Pregnancy

Misdiagnosis of ectopic pregnancy can result in infertility, organ damage and severe drops in blood pressure. Ruptured fallopian tubes, shock and even death could result if the ectopic pregnancy isn’t terminated as soon as possible. As such, early diagnosis of ectopic pregnancy is essential to proper treatment.

Is Misdiagnosis of Molar and/or Ectopic Pregnancy Malpractice?

All medical malpractice claims hinge on a violation of the medical standard of care, which results in an injury to the patient. In the case of molar and ectopic pregnancies, failure to recognize the symptoms and perform the appropriate tests as dictated by the standard of care could be grounds for a malpractice claim. The amount of medical malpractice damages that might be awarded in this type of case varies greatly depending upon your injuries and the jurisdiction in which the case is filed. As you might imagine, cases involving misdiagnoses that led to infertility or mistaken termination of a viable pregnancy will typically involve significant damage awards. (Learn more about misdiagnosis-related medical malpractice claims, see Delayed Diagnosis & Medical Malpractice Cases.)

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