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Michelle Woolls: medical negligence misses a ruptured ectopic pregnancy

I was saddened to meet a young woman this week who has suffered a brain injury as a result of medical negligence. At just 17 years of age she suffered left-sided abdominal pain. She went to an out of hours doctor, her own GP and a Minor Injuries Unit. All came up with different diagnoses but none realised that she had an ectopic pregnancy.
Eventually she was found collapsed and was taken to hospital by ambulance. She was rushed off for emergency open, which was diagnosed by performing a simple urine pregnancy test. Staff at the hospital were surprised she survived. Unfortunately she lost so much blood such that she sustained a brain injury.
I have provided training to junior doctors on many subjects surrounding medical negligence, one of which being missed diagnoses in accident and emergency. One of the most commonly missed diagnoses is an ectopic pregnancy. This occurs when the fertilised egg implants outside the cavity of the womb, usually in the fallopian tube. As the pregnancy grows, the fallopian tube stretches causing pain. If not treated quickly enough, the tube can burst, causing internal bleeding, which can lead to collapse and even death.
Signs to look out for are:
1. A missed or late period.
2. A positive urine pregnancy test.
3. Abdominal pain – this can be persistent and severe. It may be on one side only, but not necessarily on the side where the ectopic is.
4. Shoulder tip pain.
5. Abnormal bleeding
6. Diarrhoea or sometimes pain when opening the bowels.
7. Fainting, or feeling dizzy or light headed.
This young woman's condition should have been relatively easy to diagnose. Had doctors done so she would have avoided her brain injury. I hope that with further training on this potentially life-threatening condition, more doctors will learn to spot the signs in time to prevent the situation my client found herself in. Michelle Woolls is an assistant solicitor specialising in clinical negligence. If you or a member of your family have a clinical negligence enquiry please call our expert clinical negligence solicitors on 0800 916 9049, fill in our short online claim form or email and one of our specialist clinical negligence team will be in touch.