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Failure to Timely Diagnose and Treat Gallbladder Disease

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Failure to diagnose and treat gallbladder disease can have serious and even deadly consequences. Gallbladder disease includes inflammation, infection, stones, or blockage of the gallbladder. It affects 12 percent of adults in the US, and each year more than 700,000 Americans undergo surgery to have their gallbladders removed.

An experienced medical malpractice attorney can assist any patient or loved one of a patient who has suffered as a result of a failure to timely diagnose and treat gallbladder disease. We can help by obtaining compensation to offset the unexpected and unwanted costs of medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and psychological issues associated with this type of medical injury. We can also win compensation for the loss of a loved one caused by medical negligence.

Common Symptoms of Gallbladder Disease

The most common symptoms of gallbladder disease, also known as cholecystitis, are gas, nausea, abdominal discomfort after meals, and chronic diarrhea. Bile acids and proteins normally prevent the formation of gallstones. But in the case of an imbalance in the bile components, pebble-like deposits known as gallstones are formed in the gallbladder.

As gallstones block the bile ducts, pressure increases in the gallbladder. This can cause symptoms such as an attack of sporadic pain in the center of the upper abdomen that radiates outwards, moving gradually to the center of the belly or upper back. Stones lodged in the common bile duct can cause symptoms such as jaundice, dark urine, lighter stools or both, rapid heartbeat, abrupt blood pressure drop, fever, chills, nausea, and vomiting, along with severe pain in the upper right abdomen.

Common Mistakes Made in Diagnosis

Gallbladder problems often present in such a way as to be confused with other ailments. Common mistakes made in diagnosis include indigestion, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), constipation, dyspepsia (ulcer and non-ulcer), chronic pancreatitis, reflux, or colon infection.

Errors can also occur in the testing process, particularly with ultrasound examinations. According to the National Institutes of Health, mistakes may result from inappropriate techniques that don’t conform to current standards or faulty interpretation of obtained images. Other causes contributing to common mistakes include inappropriate quality of the testing apparatus, improper preparation of the patient for the examination, difficulty of obtaining a clear image of the tested organs, and incorrect interpretation of the structure and character of lesions.

Physicians may also make the common mistake of failing to order further clarifying tests such as blood tests for white blood cell count and high bilirubin levels (the cause of jaundice), urine tests for abnormal levels of harmful chemicals, and an endoscopic ultrasound that uses a scope which passes down into the small intestine to obtain images of the bile ducts, gallbladder, and pancreas.

Complications Caused by Failure to Timely Diagnose and Treat Gallbladder Disease

Failure to timely diagnose and treat gallbladder disease can have some serious and quickly progressing complications: perforation, gangrene, pancreatitis, abscess, fistula, and sepsis. A gallbladder rupture is a medical condition where the gallbladder wall leaks or bursts. Ruptures are commonly caused by inflammation of the gallbladder. This inflammation can be caused by gallstones, which can get stuck inside the gallbladder. Infection can also cause inflammation that could lead to rupture.

If your gallbladder ruptures, you may have sudden, sharp severe abdominal pain, jaundice, or fever. The pain might be short-lived after the rupture but often returns when the rupture site grows or becomes inflamed or infected. An untreated ruptured gallbladder can cause systemic inflammatory response syndrome (SIRS) within the body. If there’s underlying infection with SIRS, also called sepsis, this type of infection can be life-threatening.

The most common complications of gallstone disease are acute cholecystitis, acute pancreatitis, ascending cholangitis, and gangrenous gallbladder. These conditions often require removal of the gallbladder called a “cholecystectomy.” The most common form is known as a laparoscopic cholecystectomy or ‘keyhole’ surgery due to the small incisions and use of a tiny video camera during the procedure. Recovery is much faster with this type of surgery than with an open cholecystectomy that requires a long incision in the patient’s abdomen to separate the gallbladder, application of sutures to cystic ducts and arteries, and then removal of the gallbladder. This procedure may necessitate at least a week’s stay in the hospital and four-to-six weeks of recovery time.

Common Outcomes Due to Complication

Common complication outcomes involving untreated or misdiagnosed gallbladder problems can turn into medical issues such as sepsis and inflammation or infection of the abdomen, bile duct, or pancreas. If gallstones become lodged and block a duct, a patient can become jaundiced. These complications can possibly lead to a serious medical emergency. Gallbladder surgery itself carries risks such as sepsis, abdominal infection, and injury to a nearby structure or organ.

Since the most common laparoscopic procedure is performed using a fiber-optic camera, the surgeon isn’t using his or her sense of touch to identify various body parts. The cystic duct needs to be cut in order for the gallbladder to be removed, but the common bile duct should remain intact. Any injury to that structure could result in an outcome requiring additional surgeries, increased risk of secondary biliary cirrhosis, liver failure, or even death.