When a perineal tear is missed by medical professionals, what does the future hold for the injured woman?
Perineal tears are a common occurrence in vaginal childbirth as the baby emerges and the skin around the vagina stretches.
For the vast majority of women, these tears only affect the vagina and perineum (the area between the vagina and anus). They may require stitches after the birth of the baby but these injuries are likely to repair quickly and fully, leaving the new mother with no long-term symptoms.
Severe perineal injury during childbirth is, however, an entirely different matter and is a significant cause of long-term incontinence in women.
Severe perineal injury
Severe tears during childbirth, classified as either third or fourth degree tears, cause far more serious damage than 1st or 2nd degree tears.
A third degree tear will continue across the perineum and damage the external anal sphincter which is significant in voluntary control of opening and closing the bowels. A more severe third degree tear will also damage the internal anal sphincter which has an automatic input into bowel control.
A fourth degree tear will, in addition to the damage of a third degree tear, injure the lining of the internal anal canal. This can be difficult to both diagnose and repair.
A severe anal injury that is diagnosed and repaired shortly after the birth gives the woman the best chance of long-term recovery of function, assuming the quality of the repair is good.
In these circumstances, the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists predict that 60 – 80% of women will be completely symptom-free within 12 months.
Failure to diagnose
Where there is a failure to examine or a failure to identify that a severe tear has occurred, however, an effective repair is not possible and the woman may then suffer a lifetime of associated symptoms.
The symptoms which may suggest that a woman has an undiagnosed perineal tear do not make pleasant reading:
- an inability to prevent the passing of wind
- an inability to prevent the passing of faeces
- urgency to go to the toilet
- persistent perineal infections
- discomfort during intercourse
- leakage of wind and/or faeces via the vagina
If you are experiencing these symptoms even though you believe your perineal tear was repaired, it may be that your stitches have broken down.
On a long-term basis, these symptoms can significantly affect a woman’s ability to work or, at least, the work choices available to her. It can restrict the activities she feels able to undertake with her children, her partner and socially due to fears of bowel accidents.
If you are suffering these long-term symptoms because your perineal tear was not diagnosed after the birth of your child, you may be able to claim compensation for substandard care.
Women who have given birth should undergo a careful examination after the birth in order to check for damage to the vagina, perineum and anus and a failure to do this may be regarded as medical negligence.
Speak to a solicitor
Glynns Solicitors is a specialist medical negligence legal practice. We have worked with many women who have suffered due to the failure of medical professionals to care for them effectively and have succeeded in winning significant compensation for them.
Contact us to discuss your experience with a specialist solicitor.