Our attorneys are commonly asked questions about the factors contributing to birth injuries. Recently, we were asked about the drug Pitocin, specifically, “Can Pitocin Cause Birth Injuries?” Administering any drug during pregnancy, and especially during labor or near delivery, is risky. How much do we really know about Pitocin, the risks, and possible side effects? In this article we will explore these questions and provide some examples of birth injuries related to Pitocin use.
What is Pitocin?
Oxytocin Injection, USP, commonly known as Pitocin, is an intravenous drug often administered during pregnancy to help induce labor. Pitocin is made by extracting nonapeptide from the pituitary glands of mammals. This drug works by stimulating the uterus to induce contractions. It is a clear liquid that can be administered intravenously into the bloodstream, or intramuscularly into the abdomen.
What are the Reasons for Using Pitocin?
Pitocin is indicated for use among women with a medical reason for inducing labor, or to control postpartum bleeding. Medical reasons for administration may include:
- Maternal diabetes
- Rh problems
- Preeclampsia near or at term
- Premature membrane rupture
- Maternal or fetal distress
- Treatment of uterine inertia
- Management of complete or inevitable abortion (aids in emptying the uterus)
When Should Pitocin Not be Used?
According to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), there are many antepartum contraindications for using Pitocin. Healthcare providers should be careful to ensure that contraindicated factors are not present before administration. Contraindications for using Pitocin include:
- When the fetal position is undeliverable without conversion
- When obstetrical emergencies where the benefit-to-risk ratio favors surgical intervention
- When fetal distress occurs but delivery is not imminent
- When uterine activity is not progressing satisfactorily
- When the uterus is hypertonic or hyperactive
- When the patient is hypersensitive or allergic to the drug
- When vaginal delivery is contraindicated due to conditions, such as:
- Active genital herpes
- Total placenta previa
- Invasive cervical carcinoma
- Cord presentation or prolapse
- Vasa previa
Pitocin is not indicated for elective induction. It is the responsibility of healthcare providers to assess maternal and fetal health and determine what, if any medication, is the correct choice for a successful, healthy delivery. The FDA also recommends the following precautions:
- Pitocin should only be administered under continuous observation by healthcare professionals who can identify complications.
- There should be a physician qualified to manage complications immediately available to the patient.
- Physicians must exercise sound judgment when administering Pitocin, as overstimulation can be hazardous to mother and child.
- Pitocin should never be administered to patients who are predisposed to uterine rupture, such as patients who have had previous major obstetrical or gynecological surgery, uterine sepsis, or a traumatic delivery.
- Physicians must use care when administering Pitocin during the first and second stages of labor, as maternal deaths due to hypertension have been reported.
- When the patient is receiving fluids by mouth or intravenous, physicians must consider the risk of water intoxication when administering Pitocin, a known antidiuretic.
Unfortunately, healthcare providers sometimes choose to administer medications without considering all the risks or the overall health of the mother and child. There are also times when medications may be administered in too large a dose for the individual patient. In these cases, birth injuries can occur.
What are the Dangers of Using Pitocin?
There are many potential dangers related to Pitocin use. The FDA lists the following adverse reactions as being reported:
- Hypertensive episodes
- Pelvic hematoma
- Postpartum hemorrhage
- Cardiac arrhythmia
- Premature ventricular contractions
- Rupture of the uterus
- Severe or fatal water intoxication
- Fatal afibrinogenemia (disorder affecting blood clotting process)
- Retinal hemorrhage
- Low Apgar scores
- Brain Damage
- Central Nervous System (CNS) damage
- Neonatal seizures
Example of Pitocin-Related Birth Injuries
Related to the discussion about Pitocin use, our law firm recently learned about a lawsuit filed in Pennsylvania on behalf of a couple whose child suffered brain damage during labor and delivery. According to the lawsuit, the mother was given Pitocin during both the first and second stages of labor after a physician improperly measured dilation. After administration, monitors indicated signs of distress, with the baby’s heart rate dropping to dangerously low levels.
Within five minutes of being delivered, the baby was intubated, but the damage had been done. The lawsuit claimed that the baby suffered hypoxia due to high doses of the medication. He was diagnosed with brain damage, catastrophic disabilities, and cerebral palsy. Now four years old, the child requires ongoing medical care to manage the permanent disabilities.
After a two-week trial, the federal jury awarded the family $14.5 million, finding that the physician’s negligent medical care caused the birth injuries. The physician was held 60 percent liable for the damages awarded, and the hospital held 40 percent liable. The majority of the award has been earmarked for ongoing medical care for the child through 2063.
Have Questions or Concerns about Medications and Birth Injuries?
As patients, we trust that our physicians, nurses, and hospitals will be responsible and prepared to manage our care properly. Unfortunately, that does not always happen. Physicians are required to treat patients in accordance to legally, ethically, and medically accepted standards. When they deviate from those standards, patient lives are placed at risk.
If you have questions about medication use during your pregnancy, birth injuries, or medical negligence – contact Brown Wharton & Brothers to speak with one of our qualified attorneys. We can help you explore your situation and determine if you have a case of medical negligence or malpractice. Fill out our online form to learn more.