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Oxytocin/Pitocin medication errors linked to fetal distress, brain injury, and uterine rupture

Rapid administration can lead to dangerous uterine overstimulation

One of the top medication errors in 2020 involves the misuse of the powerful medication oxytocin.

Oxytocin is the generic version of the brand-name medication Pitocin. These drugs are used to induce, augment, or stimulate expectant mothers to go into labor. They work by causing the uterus to contract.

The prevalence of oxytocin in hospital labor and delivery units has dramatically grown; thus, so, too, have the risks. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) the rate of induction of labor is around 23%. This represents more than doubling of the rate in a 20-year period.

One of the most significant risks of oxytocin/Pitocin use is overstimulating the uterus. This occurs when the medication is administered too rapidly, often in a bolus form. When this occurs, oxytocin causes excessive uterine contractions with limited to no intervening periods of rest. Uterine tachysystole is defined as six or more uterine contractions per 10 minutes, generally over a 30-minute time frame. This makes it difficult to impossible for the baby to breathe in between contractions.

The standard of care requires labor and delivery nurses to monitor the uterine contraction pattern for signs of tachysystole and to inform the obstetrician when it’s present and to advocate for expedited delivery, when necessary.

Oxytocin/Pitocin-related uterine tachysystole can cause fetal distress based on the lack of oxygen going to the baby. Labor and delivery nurses and obstetricians often first notice signs of fetal distress on electronic fetal monitoring. The standard of care requires an emergency cesarean delivery when an unborn baby is in fetal distress because a prolonged lack of adequate oxygenation can lead to a permanent brain injury, such as hypoxic-ischemic encephalopathy (HIE).

Improper administration of Oxytocin/Pitocin can also cause a life-threatening uterine rupture. The maternal circulatory system supplies the uterus with around 500 mL of blood every minute. Thus, it’s understandable that uterine ruptures cause massive bleeds and maternal blood loss, often requiring blood replacement.

If you or your baby has been seriously injured because of induction of labor or oxytocin/Pitocin use in Texas, then contact a top-rated experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for a free consultation about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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