Copyright (c) 2012 Julie Glynn
It is now recognised that significant numbers of people receiving long periods of critical care in intensive care (ITU) can develop symptoms of neuropathy. But what exactly is critical care neuropathy? How does it develop? And could medical professionals have done anything to prevent it?
Neuropathy is when a patient in intensive care suffers damage to the peripheral nervous system (the nervous system that lies outside the brain and spinal cord). This in turn causes a collection of disorders. The way in which neuropathy develops in a critical care setting remains unclear, but it is known that major risk factors include prolonged periods of sepsis and multi organ failure.
A patient with critical care neuropathy will often describe a tingling or burning sensation in the affected area, while pain and numbness in the hands and feet is another common symptom. As the nervous system controls movement and sensation, patients will also usually experience:-
* Reduced and/or increased sensation to touch;
* Reduced sensation to temperature;
* Generalised muscle weakness;
* Poor reflexes;
* Loss of co-ordination.
A physical examination will be sufficient for a medical professional to suspect neuropathy. However, to confirm a diagnosis, a patient may undergo a nerve conduction test which measures the signals being conducted by the peripheral nervous system. An electromyography (EMG), in which a needle is used to measure the electrical activity of the muscle, may also prove useful.
When a patient is diagnosed with critical care neuropathy, it is important to rule out an underlying cause - for example, diabetes. Treatment can then be started to help a patient cope with neuropathy pain. However, regularly-used painkillers such as paracetamol will usually prove ineffective, so other medication must be used. These often cause a variety of side-effects, so it may take a patient time to find the right medication to control their symptoms.
Can Critical Care Neuropathy Be Avoided?
As medical professionals are uncertain as to why critical care neuropathy develops, the condition can be difficult to prevent. However, what is obvious is that the longer a patient is in ITU, the more chance there is of neuropathy occurring. Therefore it can, in all probability, be avoided if ITU treatment is limited to around two to four weeks. Close attention should also be paid to patients who are at increased risk of neuropathy, including those with the following medical conditions:-
* Multi-organ failure;
* Liver disease;
* Kidney disease;
Does Critical Care Neuropathy Amount to Medical Negligence?
If medical professionals were able to prevent neuropathy occurring but failed to do so, there may be grounds for a medical negligence claim. If this has happened to you, you need to speak to a lawyer who specialises in this area of law as soon as possible. A medical negligence solicitor will be able to listen to the details of your case before suggesting whether or not you have been the victim of a substandard level of care. If so, you will be able to claim compensation for the damage your injuries have caused.