Locked-In Syndrome and Medical Malpractice

By Jess Davis April 8, 2024 Medical Malpractice

Locked-In Syndrome and Medical Malpractice

Imagine being fully aware of your surroundings, your thoughts clear, yet trapped in a body unable to move or speak. This is the reality for individuals suffering from Locked-In Syndrome (LIS), a rare and devastating neurological condition. While LIS can have various causes, medical malpractice can sometimes be a contributing factor.

Understanding Locked-In Syndrome

LIS is characterized by complete paralysis of voluntary muscles, except for those controlling eye movements (and sometimes blinking/facial expressions). Individuals with LIS retain full consciousness and cognitive ability but are unable to communicate verbally or through physical gestures. This can create a profound sense of isolation and frustration.

Unfortunately, pinpointing exact statistics for Locked-in Syndrome (LIS) in the United States is difficult. Due to its rarity, only a small number of cases are confirmed each year, and there’s no central tracking system. Diagnosing LIS can also be challenging, with some cases going unrecognized or confused with similar conditions. This lack of precise data makes it likely that the number of people with LIS in the United States is significantly higher than reported.

Causes of Locked-In Syndrome

Several events can lead to LIS, including:

  • Stroke: The most common cause, strokes, occur when blood flow to the brain is interrupted, damaging brain cells. Strokes in the brainstem, specifically the pons, are most likely to cause LIS.
  • Brain Injury: Traumatic brain injuries (TBIs) from accidents or falls can damage the brainstem, leading to LIS.
  • Infections: Infections like encephalitis or meningitis can inflame the brainstem, causing paralysis.
  • Degenerative Diseases: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) can, in rare cases, progress to include LIS symptoms.

How Medical Malpractice Can Cause Locked-In Syndrome

While not all cases of LIS are caused by medical errors, sometimes negligent care is the cause of this terrible condition. Here’s how:

  • Misdiagnosis of Stroke: A missed or delayed stroke diagnosis can result in irreversible damage, potentially leading to LIS. That’s why prompt diagnosis and treatment are crucial for limiting stroke’s impact.
  • Improper Treatment of Stroke: Incorrect medication or treatment after a stroke could worsen the damage and increase the risk of LIS.
  • Surgical Errors: Mistakes during brain surgery near the brainstem can damage the area responsible for voluntary movement, causing LIS.
  • Anesthesia Errors: Complications during anesthesia can lead to oxygen deprivation to the brain, potentially causing LIS.

Living with Locked-In Syndrome

There is currently no cure for LIS. However, with advanced medical care and assistive technology, individuals with LIS can regain some level of communication and independence. Treatment options may include:

  • Augmentative and Alternative Communication (AAC) devices: These devices allow individuals with LIS to communicate through eye movements, brain-computer interfaces, or other methods.
  • Assistive Technologies: Specialized wheelchairs, environmental control systems, and other technologies can improve the quality of life for individuals with LIS.
  • Physical and Occupational Therapy: Therapy can help manage muscle spasticity and maintain physical health.

Building a Medical Malpractice Case

At Davis Adams, all we do is represent medical malpractice victims. All day, every day, we’re laser-focused on excellence in medical negligence litigation. This separates us from virtually every other law firm in Atlanta, most of which spread their time and attention among various personal injury categories — motor vehicle accidents, premises liability, etc. We’re different; we don’t try to be a jack of all trades. Instead, we devote 100% of our time to serving those harmed by medical errors. View some of our recent case results to get a glimpse of how we give it our all for our clients.

If you suspect medical malpractice contributed to your or a loved one’s LIS diagnosis, we’re ready and willing to help.