Last week on our Chicago medical malpractice law blog, we began discussing the significant increase in the number of epidural shots that are administered by medical professionals each year in the U.S. to treat patients with back and neck pain. However, these injections carry serious risks, causing some to question whether or not certain patients really need the steroid injections to alleviate pain or if doctors are more concerned with receiving generous reimbursements for administering the shots.
For years, the epidural shots were considered safe. Cases involving patients who were suffering severe side effects from the injections did not come to light until about 10 years ago. Some side effects have included paralysis, brain injuries and death. The shots can be extremely dangerous when not administered properly by doctors because the injections are made within millimeters of one’s critical arteries.
In one case, a man received a shot of two steroids in his neck in 2007 to alleviate pain. But when the doctor administered the injection, the patient suddenly displayed signs of a stroke and doctors had to insert a breathing tube to keep him alive. He eventually had to undergo surgery for brain swelling. Now, the 60-year-old man is confined to a wheelchair and is partially blind. The man’s wife filed a lawsuit on his behalf claiming that he was never informed that he could potentially suffer brain injuries from the steroid injection.
It was discovered in 2007 that 13 patients had died from the injections and more than 60 patients had suffered other injuries. Data analyzing malpractice claims between 2005 and 2008 revealed eight people suffered strokes after receiving the injections and 31 patients reported spinal cord injuries.
Many believe that this is enough evidence to prove that these shots are not safe. Others suggest limiting the number of shots patients can receive each year in order to minimize their risk of injury. The North American Spine Society has recommended only four shots in a six-month period for each patient, but the society also noted that some patients may need to exceed those limits in order to receive the treatment that is necessary for their pain.
The Food and Drug Administration is currently reviewing of the safety of the injections and stated that it is still too early to determine if doctors should be limiting the use of these injections when treating patients for neck and back pain.
Source: Businessweek, “Epidurals Linked to Paralysis Seen With $300 Billion Pain Market,” David Armstrong, Jan. 4, 2012