What is Chorioamnionitis?

As anyone who has been pregnant knows, there are many things, large and small, that can go wrong with a pregnancy or birth. Fortunately, most pregnancies don’t involve serious complications, and many complications that do occur can be successfully managed and treated. That said, when an otherwise treatable medical issue is not identified and dealt with, serious health issues can arise for both mother and baby. One such issue is chorioamnionitis.

Chorioamnionitis is a bacterial infection of the placenta and amniotic fluid that occurs prior to, or during, labor. The outer membrane surrounding the fetus is called the chorion; the amniotic sac containing the amniotic fluid is also called the amnion. Together, they are often referred to as the bag of waters. Infection of these tissues leads to an inflammatory response; when you see the suffix “-itis” at the end of a medical term like arthritis, appendicitis, or chorioamnionitis, it refers to inflammation.

What Causes Chorioamnionitis?

Chorioamnionitis is typically caused by bacteria that exist in the mother’s vagina. Often, when the amniotic sac is ruptured or broken well before the birth takes place, those bacteria have the opportunity to migrate into the uterus, where the infection causes chorioamnionitis.

What are the Risk Factors for Chorioamnionitis?

As mentioned above, an extended time between the breaking or rupture of the amniotic sac and birth puts a mother and baby at risk for chorioamnionitis. Other risk factors include:

  • Having a Group B strep infection
  • Having a vaginal infection or a sexually transmitted infection (STI)
  • Extended labor
  • Use of internal fetal monitoring
  • Frequent vaginal exams throughout labor
  • Use of internal fetal monitoring
  • Young age of the mother
  • First pregnancy
  • Alcohol or tobacco use by the mother

Even if a mother has one or more of these risk factors, that does not mean that chorioamnionitis will necessarily develop. Chorioamnionitis occurs in about 1-4% of births in the U.S., but in a much higher proportion of preterm births. Even if the overall likelihood of the infection is low, obstetricians should be on the lookout for chorioamnionitis if risk factors, especially multiple risk factors, are present.

What are the Symptoms of Chorioamnionitis?

Not everyone with chorioamnionitis will have all symptoms described below, and one person may have different symptoms from another. Common symptoms include a fever, sweating, rapid heart rate in the mother and baby, uterine pain or soreness (tender to the touch), or foul-smelling amniotic fluid.

Of course, most of these symptoms can be caused by a variety of conditions. However, if you experience them, you should talk to your medical care provider to get diagnosis and, if necessary, treatment.

How is Chorioamnionitis Diagnosed and Treated?

The care provider will probably start out by getting a medical history (especially if the patient has not worked with them before) and a physical examination. They may also perform laboratory tests to check for infection. In rare cases, the doctor may want to do an amniocentesis to collect a sample of amniotic fluid to test for infection.

Treatment for chorioamnionitis depends on the severity of the condition and the mother’s symptoms, other health concerns, and age. Typically, antibiotics are administered as soon as the condition is diagnosed and may continue after the birth. Depending on the circumstances, the doctor may an early delivery, perhaps by C-section.

What Happens if Chorioamnionitis is not Diagnosed or is Misdiagnosed?

Unfortunately, failure to diagnose chorioamnionitis can lead to serious complications for the mother, including:

  • Bacteremia, bacteria of the mother’s bloodstream
  • Sepsis, a life-threatening infection of the blood that can be caused by bacteremia
  • Endometritis, infection of the uterine lining
  • Blood clots in the uterus and pelvis
  • Preterm labor and birth
  • Increased risk of C-section and the associated extended recovery from birth

Chorioamnitis can also have a serious impact on the baby, causing complications such as:

  • Issues associated with prematurity
  • Respiratory issues
  • Sepsis
  • Meningitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Cerebral palsy
  • Brain damage
  • Death

Failure to promptly identify and treat chorioamnionitis may constitute medical malpractice, especially if the doctor ignored symptoms or risk factors.

What Should I Do if I Had Untreated Chorioamnionitis?

If your doctor failed to identify and treat your chorioamnionitis, and you or your baby suffered injury as a result, you should consider talking to an experienced medical malpractice attorney to explore your options. You might be entitled to recover damages for the harm that you suffered if your doctor could have prevented it.

If your untreated infection led to permanent injury in your baby, you may be facing a lifetime of increased medical and care expenses. This is especially true if your baby will be unable to care and provide for himself as he gets older. A knowledgeable attorney can help you understand if there is a legal basis for holding your doctor accountable. A malpractice claim may help you to get the resources you will need to give your child the best life possible.

To learn more about chorioamnionitis, birth injuries, and obstetrical malpractice, please contact The Fraser Law Firm P.C. to schedule a consultation.