What Causes Locked-In Syndrome?

What Causes Locked-In Syndrome? Understand what causes locked-in syndrome and what a patient's prognosis might be.

Damage to the pons is the usual cause for locked-in syndrome. The pons is a part of the brain stem responsible for relaying nerves between the brain and spinal cord. When the transmission of these nerves gets interrupted or cut off, the brain cannot send the proper signals to the muscles to move or contract. The result is total or near-total paralysis, and the condition is almost always permanent.

The pons can suffer damage in several ways. The two most common are bleeding in the brain and lack of oxygen to the brain. Both scenarios can and frequently do happen due to medical errors, in which case the patient and their loved ones may have grounds for a malpractice lawsuit. In less frequent cases, head trauma can cause damage to the pons, leading to locked-in syndrome.

For a free consultation with the Newsome Melton medical malpractice law firm, call 855-633-2757.

The Basics of Locked-In Syndrome

Locked-in syndrome is a neurological condition. Nerves carry signals from the brain to various parts of the body. These signals tell various body parts to do various things. When you move your right hand to pick up a glass of water, then use your hand to bring the glass to your mouth and take a drink, the impulse to do this starts in your brain. In a nearly instantaneous process, your brain sends signals via nerve passageways to the muscles in your arm and hand, telling them what to do.

One of the critical areas of the brain that relays these nerve impulses is the pons. When the pons gets damaged, the flow of nerves between the brain and the spinal cord gets interrupted. Locked-in syndrome is the most severe type of nerve damage caused by pons damage. It leads to total paralysis in all voluntary muscles except those controlling eye movement.

Effects of Locked-In Syndrome

A person with locked-in syndrome has no muscle movement except in the eyes. But they retain their eyesight, hearing, and cognitive function. They can think and see clearly and hear everything you say. But they have difficulty responding to or even acknowledging anything they have heard. The only way they can communicate is with eye movement — blinking, looking in different directions or closing their eyes, for instance.

Locked-in syndrome does not affect sleep cycles or situational awareness. A patient still sleeps and wakes at normal intervals and is aware of their surroundings. But they require round-the-clock care, as they cannot do anything on their own — even breathe. Patients typically receive a tracheotomy so that can use an artificial breathing device.

What Causes Pons Damage Leading to Locked-In Syndrome

Pons damage may result from several causes. Some are beyond the patient’s or anyone else’s control, such as strokes, blood clots, and embolisms. An infection or brain tumor may lead to the condition, as can a chronic illness such as ALS (Lou Gehrig’s disease).

But in other cases, a medical error leads to locked-in syndrome. If your loved one developed locked-in syndrome after surgery or a medical procedure, you may have grounds for a malpractice lawsuit against the doctor, a member of the doctor’s medical staff, or the facility where the procedure took place.

A medical malpractice lawyer from Newsome Melton can help you pursue damages. To receive a free case evaluation, call us at 855-633-2757.

Recovery and Treatment Options

It is rare for a patient with locked-in syndrome to make a full recovery. Most never regain any muscle movement. In rare cases, a patient may get movement back in some of their fingers or toes, but never enough to substantively improve his or her quality of life. Treatment for locked-in syndrome is thus focused more on adjustment and adaptation than it is on recovery.

Learning to communicate with loved ones and caregivers is the most important way a person with locked-in syndrome can adapt to the condition and improve their quality of life. With the help of therapists, and with love and patience from loved ones, a patient can learn a coded communication system in which he or she makes eye movements to convey thoughts.

To Receive a Free Consultation With the Newsome Melton Medical Malpractice Legal Team, Call 855-633-2757 Today

A medical malpractice lawyer from Newsome Melton can help you recover damages if your loved one developed locked-in syndrome because of a health care provider’s negligence.

Our team will investigate your loved one’s injury and help you pursue compensation. We offer a free consultation and never get paid until we recover money for you. To speak with a member of our team, call 855-633-2757 today.


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