Locked-in syndrome is a rare neurological condition in which the patient has quadriplegia who cannot breathe, swallow, chew, or speak. Communication is limited to blinks and vertical eye movements. A person with locked-in syndrome can see, hear, think, and reason usually. They have normal sleep and waking patterns. This cognitive awareness is a key difference between locked-in syndrome and other altered states of consciousness.
Because the patient is unable to communicate, a doctor must rely on other indicators to diagnose locked-in syndrome. It is important to have an exact diagnosis to create a treatment plan.
How a Doctor Diagnoses Locked-in Syndrome
According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), a diagnosis for locked-in syndrome is made clinically. Doctors will usually run a series of tests to diagnose locked-in syndrome.
The clinical tests that doctors use to diagnose locked-in syndrome include:
- Positron emission tomography (PET) or single photon emission computed tomography (SPECT) use radioactive tracers to find abnormalities in brain waves.
- Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) can show doctors how much damage is in the brain and brainstem.
- An electroencephalogram (EEG) measures the electrical activity of the brain and may reveal the normal brain activity and sleep-wake cycles that are common for this condition.
- Stimulation tests during an EEG to show responses to auditory, visual, or pain cues.
- Electromyography and nerve conduction studies help doctors determine any damage to the muscles and nerves.
According to NORD, half of all reported locked-in syndrome patients are diagnosed by family members. Family caregivers are often the first to realize that their loved one can see, hear, and think even if their body is paralyzed.
Why an Accurate Diagnosis of Locked-in Syndrome Is Important
Imagine how terrifying it must feel to be paralyzed and unable to speak. However, many locked-in syndrome patients find nonverbal ways to communicate with their family and caregivers. The prognosis for locked-in syndrome improves when patients can interact with loved ones. This makes how a doctor’s accurate diagnosis of locked-in syndrome is key to a patient’s physical and emotional outlook.
Locked-in syndrome patients can learn to communicate with their caregivers and family. These communication methods include:
- Eye gaze devices
- Neural-control interface equipment
Being able to communicate is an important part of a patient’s overall treatment plan. Other lifecare services are necessary for a locked-in patient. These include:
- Respiratory (breathing) support
- Physical therapy to prevent muscle atrophy or contractures (shortening of the muscles)
- Feeding tube with proper nutrition
- Catheters and other elimination aids
- Skilled care to prevent complications such as pneumonia and bed sores
- Hygiene and personal care
- Interaction with family members
- Intellectual stimuli such as audiobooks and music
Causes and Contributing Factors of Locked-in Syndrome
Locked-in syndrome is a secondary condition of an underlying injury or illness. Some of the most common causes of locked-in syndrome are:
- Blood clots
- Infections such as meningitis
- Medication overdose
- Brainstem stroke
- Traumatic brain injury
- Exposure to toxic substances
- Polymyositis (inflammation of the nerves)
Proving Medical Negligence as a Factor for Your Loved One’s Condition
Medical negligence can also be a contributing factor in locked-in syndrome. Doctors and other healthcare providers make mistakes. Even if they did not intentionally contribute to your loved one’s condition, you could be entitled to compensation for their error.
A locked-in syndrome lawyer can help determine if a healthcare provider or facility is liable. Certain conditions must be met to prove that medical negligence contributed to your loved one’s locked-in syndrome.
How a Locked-in Syndrome Lawyer Shows Liability
- Establish that the provider had an obligation to uphold a duty of care; to act responsibly and properly in a way that protects a patient from harm.
- Show that the provider breached this duty of care and jeopardized a patient.
- Prove that the patient suffered injuries from this negligence.
- Supply proof of damages because of the injuries.
If a locked-in lawyer shows that medical negligence played a role in your loved one’s condition, you could recover damages for such losses as:
- Medical bills, equipment, and caregivers
- Repeated hospitalization
- Skilled nursing facilities
- Lost income
- Loss of consortium
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
Our Firm Will Pursue Compensation for You and Your Loved Ones
Pintas & Mullins limits our practice to catastrophically injured clients and their families. We understand the unique circumstances of locked-in syndrome cases. A locked-in syndrome lawyer will pursue compensation from the liable party on a contingency fee basis.
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