What Happens With Untreated Fractures Such As Untreated Broken Hands And Legs?
Unfortunately we see all too many cases of fractures left untreated, leaving a patient to suffer severe pain and discomfort. Whether it is an untreated broken hand or leg, this can cause serious complications. This article explores how fractures can be left untreated, the potential complications, and what you can do if you or a loved one has endured an untreated fracture.
Early advice is always helpful, so for a free, initial discussion about an untreated fracture one of our specialist medical negligence solicitors, please call us now on 0800 234 3300 (or from a mobile 01761 490883) or complete our Online Enquiry Form.
How Can A Fracture Be Left Untreated?
While fractures usually occur as a result of an obvious injury such as a fall or an accident, there are times when a fracture can happen for reasons that are less clear. For example, fractures can arise from repeated stress upon a bone (common in athletes) or from an infection or cyst (common in the elderly).
Because the cause of a fracture is not always apparent, it is important to be aware of the symptoms. These vary depending on the injury, but will generally include:-
- Pain and swelling;
- Bruising or discoloured skin around the bone or joint;
- The limb or affected area of the body is bent at an unusual angle (known as angulation);
- The inability to move or put weight upon the injured part of the body;
- A grinding or grating sensation at the site of injury (known as crepitus).
If someone is experiencing these symptoms it is important to seek medical advice without delay. A medical professional should then confirm whether or not a fracture has been sustained by X-raying the site of injury, before beginning treatment to realign the broken bones.
However, occasionally a fracture is left untreated. This can be for one of two reasons:
1. A fracture is identified but deliberately left untreated
Some fractures do not need to be treated, as they can be left to recover without the aid of medical intervention. Medical professionals may decide this is the best course of action particularly when small bones are fractured, such as in the toes, feet and hands.
2. A fracture is left untreated by mistake
A fracture can be left untreated by mistake, either because medical professionals fail to identify a fracture when examining an X-ray, or because an X-ray is not performed at all.
What Happens If A Fracture Is Left Untreated?
If a fracture is not properly treated, it can potentially lead to a number of complications, such as:-
- Infection, particularly of the bone or bone marrow. This can develop into a persistent infection called osteomyelitis;
- Permanent nerve damage;
- Deformity or ‘malunion’ (where the bones heal in the wrong position);
- Rupturing of muscle and/or ligament;
- Blood clots and/or sores;
- Avascular necrosis (where the bone loses its blood supply and dies.)
An untreated fracture can therefore have extremely serious consequences that may result in long-term damage. In the most serious cases, particularly where injuries to the neck are concerned, a fracture left untreated can result in paralysis or even death.
Untreated Fracture Medical Negligence Claim
If your fracture was left untreated when it should not have been, or was not diagnosed and repaired, you could be the victim of medical negligence.
As described above, there are times when it is right to leave a fracture untreated. However, this is only recommended in certain circumstances. If a fracture is left untreated when it should have been re-set and/or put in a plaster cast, the patient will suffer complications. The bone will reunite, but the bone will be out of alignment, causing pain and reduced function. This is called malunion. The bone will then have to be surgically re-broken and reset.
Malunion will also occur if medical practitioners fail to diagnose a fracture, as the injury will of course be left untreated. Fractures are commonly seen in hospitals, and a competent medical practitioner would be expected to diagnose the problem.
Sometimes the location of the fracture can pose difficulties, as the break cannot be clearly seen on an x-ray. This is often the case with scaphoid fractures in the wrist. Nevertheless, clinicians should be aware of this and should avoid potentially missing a fracture by taking images of the bone from different angles. If this still does not show a fracture, doctors should continue to err on the side of caution and ask a patient to return for further x-rays if their symptoms do not improve. Often after two weeks have passed the fracture will then be visible on a second x-ray.
Therefore if a fracture is not diagnosed, or was wrongfully left untreated, there could be grounds for a medical negligence claim. To find out if you can claim, you need to speak to a medical negligence solicitor.
Untreated Fractures and Medical Negligence
An untreated fracture can cause unnecessary pain and suffering. If you have been deliberately left with an untreated fracture and have suffered permanent problems as a result of the lack of treatment, or if you were mistakenly left with a fracture which resulted in further complications, then you may be able to make a successful medical negligence claim. For more information, you should seek expert legal advice.
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