Severe anal injuries during childbirth appear to be on the increase. What affects the mother’s chance of recovery from such an injury?
What is a third degree tear?
A third degree tear is an injury to the perineum which can occur during vaginal childbirth. A third degree tear is also sometimes referred to as an obstetric anal sphincter injury because of the degree of damage it causes.
The majority of women – approximately 90% – will experience a tear of some degree as their baby is born. Most of these injuries will be relatively small, affecting only the skin and muscle of the perineum – the area between the vagina and the anus.
For others, the tear can continue beyond the perineum and cause damage to the anus. In the case of a third degree tear, this can damage solely the external sphincter muscle or both the internal and external muscles.
The potential impact of such an injury is to reduce the woman’s ability to control the passing of wind and faeces.
Most women will recover function after a severe obstetric tear during childbirth. If their tear is promptly and accurately diagnosed shortly after the birth, they should receive appropriate treatment. This means a surgical repair in an operating theatre, using recommended materials and techniques.
The Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has observed that most women are then free of distressing symptoms within 12 months.
Failure to diagnose a tear
Long-term problems can arise, however, when the woman’s injury is not diagnosed. This might be because of an inadequate post-partum examination or because of a misdiagnosis of the severity of the tear.
This will mean either that the woman receives no surgical repair at all or that the extent of the repair is inadequate because the injury has been misdiagnosed.
The woman is then likely to begin to experience symptoms such as urgency, leakage, pain, infections and, sometimes, incontinence.
Poor repair of a tear
Occasionally, a severe obstetric injury is identified but the subsequent repair is not of a good enough standard to ensure long-term recovery and the woman may start to suffer the above-mentioned symptoms.
Examination and diagnosis
The key to a successful recovery from a third degree tear is an accurate diagnosis. Without this, an effective repair is unlikely and the woman may not recover control of her bowels.
Delayed surgery or repeat surgery to repair earlier failings will not necessarily be as successful as a good quality repair at the time of the birth.
If you are suffering with the appalling long-term effects of a misdiagnosed severe tear, you may be entitled to make a claim for compensation.
We have supported numerous highly-successful claims for the impact of obstetric anal sphincter injuries and would be happy to discuss your experience with you.
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If you, or your family member, has suffered a birth injury tear, please call us now for free, no obligation advice on 0800 234 3300 (or from a mobile click to call 01275 334030) or complete our Free Online Enquiry.