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Acute compartment syndrome is a condition in which the pressure in the soft tissues of a limb-generally an arm or leg-is unusually high. The result is a lack of blood flow to the affected limb. Muscle areas in the arms, hands, legs, and feet are the most commonly affected; an affected buttocks is less common. Acute compartment syndrome often occurs after trauma to a limb or extremity. It is less often brought on by over-exercising. Within the muscle areas are groups are nerves and blood vessels and these areas are covered by tough, thick membrane called fascia. Fascia does not have much give and does not freely expand. Fascia wraps around muscles to protect and contains them. In general, the fascia has enough room to allow the muscle to move and function without problems. The fascia and muscle together are called a compartment. When there is a buildup of fluid within these compartments, pressure is increased. This gives way to the compression of the blood vessels and it hinders blood flow to the affected area and areas around it. If it not immediately treated, acute compartment syndrome can cause serious nerve and muscle damage.
Compartment syndrome can be either acute or chronic. Acute compartment syndrome is a medical emergency and without treatment can lead to paralysis, loss of the affected limb, or, in extreme cases, death. Chronic compartment syndrome is more common and is not an emergency. Often times, medical professionals are not aware when patients are suffering from acute compartment syndrome (ACS); as a result, those patients suffer serious and potential life-long injuries.
A traumatic injury, such as a fracture, can often trigger acute compartment syndrome. ACS may take several hours to progress. Swelling and bleeding at the injured area creates pressure on vessels and nerves in the muscle compartment. When the pressure in the compartment surpasses the blood pressure in the vessels, the vessels will breakdown. This disrupts blood flow to both the muscle and nerve cells. Without a steady supply of oxygen, the cells start dying in a short amount of time. This often causes lasting disability or complete muscle death unless the pressure is quickly relieved. Conditions that can cause ACS under health professionals’ care include: complications after surgery or a stoppage in circulation, often caused from pressure over blood vessels while a patient is asleep.
There are a combination of symptoms that are characteristic with ACS. Patients most often complain of pain while they are stretching a muscle, though there are other types of pain as well. Symptoms of ACS include pain while resting, pain while passively stretching, pressure over the affected area, tingling and numbness, muscle weakness, a light pulse in the affected area, and loss of color to the affected area.
There are ways to treat and diagnosis ACS that can be made by measuring the pressure within the muscles in the affected area. Pressure measurements done while the patient is rest, and then after the patient completes a short walk or movement to the affected area are most common. Once the measurements are taken while still and then while moving, the change is pressured is compared in order to diagnose. In the majority of cases, the pressure difference from rest and activity is minimal. In patients who have ACS, the change in pressure is dramatic. Nonsurgical treatment is generally ineffective for ACS, but health professionals may choose to have patients avoid movements that cause pain and/or swelling, they may apply ice and elevate the affected area, they may prescribe ibuprofen or other NSAIDs to reduce inflammation, or they may increase the cushioning in the soles of a patient’s shoes, depending of the location of the affected areas.
Under no circumstances should a health professional wrap the affected area because this may increase the pressure and worsen the condition. Often times, nurses and physicians fail to properly diagnose ACS and wrap the affected area anyway, causing severe pain, lasting injuries, or even muscle death. Even if the ACS diagnosis is made late, health professionals will often attempt surgical treatment. Under certain circumstances this may work; however, it often does more good than bad and worsens the patient’s condition.
If you are the victim of a delayed or misdiagnosis of acute compartment syndrome, the medical malpractice attorneys at Richards & Richards may be able to help you be compensation for your pain, suffering, medical bills, missed time at work, and lost future income. Attorney Veronica Richards is a nurse practitioner and former hospital administrator who has been able to use her years of experience in the medical field to help medical malpractice patients in Pennsylvania. Call Richards & Richards today for a free consultation at 412-261-2620 or email us now.