According to the National Organization for Rare Disorders (NORD), locked-in syndrome is often caused by a stroke. It is also possible that a patient with locked-in syndrome can suffer a stroke because of a blood clot or other factors.
Locked-in syndrome is a rare neurological disorder. People with locked-in syndrome cannot consciously or voluntarily chew, swallow, breathe, speak, or make any movement other than with their eyes or eyelids. Despite this total physical paralysis, most patients have normal cognitive functions. However, they must rely entirely on caregivers and medical support to live.
Strokes Are a Leading Cause of Locked-in Syndrome
Locked-in syndrome is usually caused by damage to a specific part of the brainstem called the pons. A stroke interrupts the blood flow or causes bleeding. When this occurs, critical neurological pathways are disrupted. This is what causes a locked-in syndrome patient to become paralyzed and unable to speak.
Other factors lead to locked-in syndrome. These include:
- Traumatic brain injury
- Blood clot
- Medication or illegal drug overdose
- Inflammation of the nerves
- Certain disorders including amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
According to the National Institutes of Health, locked-in syndrome has three classifications:
- Classic in which patients have quadriplegia, preserved consciousness, and vertical eye movement.
- Incomplete has the same characteristics as classic, but with some additional voluntary movement.
- Total means total immobility and inability to communicate, with full consciousness.
All Locked-in Syndrome Patients Require 24/7 Care
Locked-in syndrome patients have only blinks and vertical eye movements to communicate. They cannot eat, chew, talk, breathe, or perform any other life activity on their own. Their constant care includes:
- Respiratory (breathing) support
- Physical therapy to prevent muscle atrophy or contractures (shortening of the muscles)
- Skilled care to prevent complications due to immobilization such as lung and urinary tract infections, blood clots, and pressure ulcers
- Speech therapy to develop communication with eye blinks or eye vertical movements
- Technical aid for computer terminal control linked to the patient’s eye movements
Prognosis for Locked-in Syndrome Patients
The prognosis of most patients with locked-in syndrome varies is fair to poor. Patients who have supportive lifecare may have a survival rate of 80 percent after 10 years. It is extremely rare for a patient to recover basic functionality.
Locked-in Syndrome Is a Secondary Disorder
Locked-in syndrome is a secondary disorder that can be caused by stroke, tumor, or another underlying factor. There is no cure, but in a few cases, treatment of the underlying disorder can improve a patient’s prognosis. For example, if a patient’s locked-in syndrome is caused by a brainstem tumor, radiation or other cancer treatment could shrink the tumor. In this instance, the patient could recover limited mobility or other neurological improvements.
Locked-in syndrome is often misdiagnosed, making it difficult to estimate how many people suffer from it. Locked-in syndrome affects men and women in equal numbers. Locked-in syndrome can occur at any age, including in children. Adults who have an elevated risk for stroke are more likely to be affected by locked-in syndrome.
The Link Between Medical Negligence and Locked-in Syndrome
Medical errors can also be a factor for locked-in syndrome. If you have a family member with locked-in syndrome that can be traced to medical negligence, you could qualify for compensation. The lifecare costs for a locked-in patient can easily exceed most family’s finances. A medical malpractice lawyer can advise you about potential compensation.
How Medical Error or Negligence Contributes to Locked-in Syndrome
Medical malpractice may have been a factor in contributing to your loved one’s condition. There are several ways that this could have occurred:
- Failure or inaccurate diagnosis
- Misuse of medications
- Unsanitary hospital conditions
- Human error
- Inadequate staff training or supervision
Potential Compensation for Locked-in Syndrome Patients and Family Members
If a loved one suffers from locked-in syndrome caused by medical malpractice, you could recover damages for lifecare costs, lost income, and other expenses. It is best to contact a medical malpractice law firm who accepts locked-in syndrome cases.
If your situation qualifies for compensation, you could recover damage for such losses as:
- Hospitalization or skilled nursing facilities
- Lifecare expenses
- Medical equipment and adaptive furnishings
- Lost earning ability
- Pain and suffering
- Mental anguish
Pintas & Mullins specializes in the most severe injury cases involving brain injury, spinal cord injuries or death. A locked-in syndrome lawyer from our firm would be happy to discuss your situation in a free consultation.
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