Compartment syndrome, a serious condition that causes increased pressure in the body's muscle compartments, can be caused by even minor trauma to any part of the body. Its consequences, which can take hold quickly, can be devastating if not properly addressed by medical professionals. Indeed, in many cases, it is only their suspicion of the condition and prompt treatment that have the ability to save a patient from permanent and potentially fatal side effects.
Understanding Compartment Syndrome
Within any given muscle group, one will find thick layers of tissue, called fascia, separating it from the other muscle groups. Inside of each layer of fascia, there is a confined space, called a “compartment,” and within each one of those, there are blood vessels, nerves, and tissue. Swelling within the compartment, usually caused by injury, will place pressure on the internal parts and, if allowed to build up enough, blood flow to the compartment will become blocked.
Because fasciae do not expand, the pressure inside must be relieved. If it is not, the tissue, vessels, and nerves can die and will no longer work properly. In some cases, the permanent effects may only include paralysis but, if serious enough, the condition could lead to amputation or death.
Symptoms of Compartment Syndrome
One of the most concerning aspects of compartment syndrome is that its symptoms (and its effects) typically progress very quickly. Initially, it is a severe pain that does not go away, even if pain medicine is taken or the affected area is elevated. Progression and more serious cases of compartment syndrome will include symptoms such as:
- Numbness or a tingling sensation;
- Lack of or decreased sensation in the affected area;
- A lack of palpable pulse in the affected area;
- Paleness of skin in the affected area;
- Worsening pain, sometimes with or without movement of the area;
- Swelling of the affected area; and
- Pain when the area is squeezed.
Treatment of Compartment Syndrome
Because it progresses so quickly, compartment syndrome must be treated promptly and aggressively with surgical intervention. Long cuts are made through the muscle tissue to relieve the pressure within and then left open and covered with a sterile dressing for approximately 48 to 72 hours. If necessary, skin grafts can be used to close the wound.
Prognosis after surgery is typically excellent if the condition was treated quickly (permanent damage can occur in as little as 12 to 24 hours of the start of compression). However, it should be noted that the true outcome heavily relies on what had caused the condition in the first place, and if there were any other conditions that could cause poor or improper healing of the body, particularly the extremities since these are the areas most typically affected.
Death or Permanent Injury from Compartment Syndrome?
Although not every case of permanent or devastating consequences of compartment syndrome can be traced back to a physician, some often do, either because the condition was not caught early enough or treated quickly enough. If you believe the latter to be true for you or a family member, it is crucial that you contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney immediately.
At Hurley, McKenna & Mertz, P.C., we have more than 75 years of combined experience to offer. Our proven track record, knowledge of the medical field, connections with expert witnesses, and pioneering of high-tech visual tools can provide your case with the kind of representation it deserves. For a free consultation with one of our Chicago medical malpractice attorneys, call us at [[phone]] today.