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Home > Practice Areas > Medical Malpractice > Birth Injuries > Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)

Persistent Pulmonary Hypertension of the Newborn (PPHN)

When a baby is in utero, it does not use its lungs to breathe; there is no need, since it absorbs nutrients from the placenta and the mother’s body. However, the child’s body must make the transition to breathing on its own after birth. If it does not, it may be as a result of a condition called persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN), and that can pose a severe risk to the child’s long term health. It is important to understand this condition, and know what is actionable and what is not.

Causes and Symptoms

PPHN can be caused by several factors, some of which would occur naturally, such as meconium aspiration syndrome (when the baby inhales meconium, which is a fetal bowel movement) or oligohydramnios, which is a condition marked by not having enough amniotic fluid. However, many of the events that may cause PPHN come about due to negligence on the part of the mother or medical professionals. Some of them include:

  • Fetal hypoxia, where the child being born does not receive sufficient oxygen;
  • The mother using NSAIDs during pregnancy; and
  • Use of antidepressants late in pregnancy (3d trimester), especially SSRIs.

The symptoms of PPHN are fairly unmistakable. Rapid breathing and heart rate will almost always be present, just because a baby will be struggling to breathe. The child may even have a bluish tint to their skin, depending on how bad the oxygen loss may be. Generally, the baby’s symptoms will be similar to those of someone in shock.

One must remember that while it is rare, this condition does present idiopathically. In other words, sometimes PPHN simply occurs, with no visible explanation for why it has occurred. Most of the time, if PPHN is diagnosed in your baby, it is due to a concrete event, but the fact still must be kept in mind that rarely, the condition will occur spontaneously.

Causes of Action for Malpractice Suits

In terms of malpractice liability, PPHN can trigger it in two main ways. The first is when a doctor’s failure to notice PPHN symptoms means a delay in treatment. Sometimes, symptoms will not become apparent until it is too late to avoid injury, but in some cases, a doctor of similar skill and experience would have been able to make the diagnosis. If the latter is true, you may have a case for malpractice.

The second avenue under which PPHN malpractice suits are most often brought is the question of negligent prescription – that is, of prescribing a medication that proved harmful to a patient in some way, even if unintentional. There have been numerous studies that link PPHN with antidepressant use (more specifically, the use of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors, or SSRIs), especially late in pregnancy. If your doctor prescribes you an antidepressant, there are two potential problems there. Firstly, your doctor may not be aware of the research. Secondly, they may simply err in terms of which medication they prescribe. If you are in need of antidepressants, it can be very difficult or even dangerous to go off them during pregnancy, and your doctor may choose your mental health over an increased risk to your child. However, a doctor has a duty to both you and your baby.

Contact A PPHN Attorney

If you believe your child’s PPHN was caused in whole or in part by a doctor’s negligence, you may be entitled to compensation. Getting a legal professional on your side is important, and the firm of Gary Roberts & Associates has medical experts on staff as well as experienced attorneys. Our West Palm Beach office can accommodate Spanish speakers, and we can also work with your schedule so we can keep you in the loop every step of the way. Contact us today to discuss your options.

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