Are Spinal Cord Stimulators Safe? | Belt, Bruner & Barnett P.C.

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Are Spinal Cord Stimulators Safe?

Jan 19, 2023 | Medical Malpractice

The answer to this question depends on who you ask.  The spinal cord stimulator manufacturers including Medtronic, Inc., St. Jude Medical, Inc. and Boston Scientific Corp. as well as the doctors who implant them will tell you the devices are safe.  They will tell you that the devices have an overwhelmingly high success rate when properly placed in the back.  The key is that the device is properly placed in the back and when necessary, properly removed.  Another critical factor to the patient’s safety is that the patient and doctors who treat the patient after the device has been implanted or removed are aware of the device, how it functions, and the potential risks.

As to neurosurgeons who operate on patients who have suffered complications associated with spinal cord stimulators, these doctors will tell you that spinal cord stimulators have many risks.  Similarly, the patients who suffer life altering injuries from these devices will tell you spinal cord stimulators are dangerous and that they did not appreciate the degree of risk associated with such devices.

Can Spinal Cord Stimulators Cause Paralysis?

Unfortunately, the answer is yes.  Spinal cord stimulators can cause paraplegia and quadriplegia.   The dangers associated with such devices have been discussed for years. Per The Wall Street Journal’s analysis of adverse-event reports submitted to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and a review of medical malpractice lawsuits, more than 100 patients have experienced partial or permanent paralysis after having spinal-cord stimulators implanted.

The article referenced that most serious spinal injuries occurred as a result of the placement, migration, or movement of the spinal leads that are implanted into the small cavity of the spine called the epidural space. During movement, the leads can potentially cause injury to the spine or disrupt the venous plexus (small veins) contained in the epidural space.  This can cause bleeding in the spine known as spinal hematoma.  The lead or surgery can also be a source of external contamination of MRSA, bacteria, or other pathogen into the epidural space that can cause a spinal infection known as a spinal epidural abscess. When either spinal bleeding or infection occurs, the pressure exerted on the spinal cord can cause permanent paralysis.

Who Is Liable for Paralysis Caused by Spinal Cord Stimulators?

Both medical doctors and hospitals can be liable. In fact, many experts will tell you that often times the problems associated with spinal cord stimulators are caused by the medical doctor who implants the spinal leads/electrodes or that treats the patient for problems related to the spinal cord stimulator after the implantation or removal.  Many times the doctor who implants the spinal cord stimulator has inadequate training and experience with the devices or fails to properly warn and educate the patient about the risks and problems that may develop after the implantation has occurred.  Experienced doctors will tell you that two days, which is the standard amount of time manufacturers allocate to explaining this procedure, is not nearly enough.

What Medical Errors Can Cause Spinal Cord Stimulator Paralysis?

Excessive Pressure

When implanting the device, an inexperienced surgeon may put too much pressure on the spinal cord causing a bruise or contusion which can cause symptoms in the patient. If the pressure is severe, it could cause damage to the spinal cord and paralysis.

The spinal leads/electrodes, which are somewhat rigid, can be inserted too aggressively causing damage to internal structures of the spine.

Failure to Diagnose Spinal Bleeding and Infection

Both of these conditions can occur after a surgery to implant or remove a spinal cord stimulator.  These conditions can develop over the course of a few hours, days, or even weeks.  Unfortunately, these conditions can occur even with good technique. However, a critical issue that can arise is when the patient begins to have symptoms that can be associated with bleeding or infection such as serious back pain, numbness and tingling in an extremity, weakness in an extremity, bowel or bladder problems, chest pain, neurological problems, and/or fever.  These symptoms can develop days or weeks after a spinal stimulator insertion or removal procedure.

Unfortunately, the medical doctors and clinicians who are consulted about these symptoms often do not properly recognize and diagnose the condition of spinal epidural hematoma or abscess.  These medical personnel also often fail to properly recognize the cause of the bleeding or infection.  Consequently, the medical care given often fails to meet the proper standard of care and the proper diagnosis is often delayed caused extreme harm to the patient.

Paralyzed by a Spinal Cord Stimulator? Call Belt, Bruner & Barnett PC

The lawyers at Belt, Bruner & Barnett PC have handled medical malpractice cases that involve spinal cord stimulators and paralysis.  These cases have involved failure to timely diagnose and treat spinal bleeding (spinal epidural hematoma) and spinal infection (spinal epidural abscess) caused by either the implantation or removal of spinal cord stimulator leads/electrodes.  In all of these cases, the medical doctors and hospital personnel failed to be knowledgeable about spinal cord stimulators and failed to give proper care and treatment of the symptoms that led to paralysis.  Failing to properly and timely diagnose such serious conditions can lead to catastrophic consequences for patients.

Our firm offers no-cost, risk-free consultations to victims of medical malpractice across the state of Alabama. To set up your free consult, complete our online contact form or call (205) 933-1500 today.