Brachial Plexus Injury and Klumpke Palsy
Most childbirths have few complications. However, in some cases medical negligence can result in severe and preventable birth injuries. During a difficult childbirth, the nerves around an infant’s neck can be stretched, resulting in a serious condition known as Klumpke palsy. Klumpke palsy, or Klumpke paralysis, occurs when a child sustains damage to the group of nerves called the brachial plexus.
Klumpke palsy is just one type of brachial plexus birth injury. The other serious brachial plexus injury is known as Erb’s palsy. Brachial plexus injuries are relatively rare, occurring in only about one or two out of 1,000 infants. With most brachial plexus injuries, the child will recover in approximately three to six months. However, some babies who suffer from Klumpke palsy will require extensive treatment for their injuries.
Understanding Klumpke Palsy
Klumpke palsy is a condition caused by injury to a baby’s brachial plexus during birth. How is Klumpke palsy different from Erb’s palsy? Klumpke palsy results from an injury to the lower part of the brachial plexus, while Erb’s palsy typically results from an injury to the upper part of the brachial plexus.
The two conditions have different signs and symptoms. While Erb’s palsy usually results in a loss of movement or sensation in the arm, Klumpke palsy typically affects the wrist, hands, and fingers. In some cases, children diagnosed with Klumpke palsy have also sustained a birth injury resulting in Horner’s syndrome. According to the Mayo Clinic, Horner’s syndrome is caused by nerve injury and leads to “decreased pupil size, a drooping eyelid, and decreased sweating on the affected side of your face.”
Risk Factors for Klumpke Palsy
Like other brachial plexus injuries, Klumpke palsy is associated with problematic childbirths. When an obstetrician has difficulty delivering a baby, serious conditions like Klumpke palsy can arise. While it is impossible to predict whether a childbirth will result in birth injuries, the National Institutes of Health (NIH) identifies certain risk factors for brachial plexus injuries:
- High weight babies;
- Pregnancy of more than 40 weeks;
- Shoulder dystocia (the infant’s head has emerged but the shoulders are trapped);
- Use of forceps during delivery;
- Clavicle fractures; and
- Breech delivery (feet-first delivery).
In some cases, a Caesarean, or c-section, reduces the risk of birth injuries to the brachial plexus. The severity of a brachial plexus injury depends on its location and its type. Some brachial plexus injuries can heal on their own, while others involve partial or complete ruptures of the nerve. In the most severe brachial plexus injuries, surgery may be required to treat the condition.
Symptoms of Klumpke Palsy
Like other brachial plexus injuries, babies who suffer from Klumpke palsy may experience numbness, weakness, or paralysis in the hand and fingers. However, since it is difficult to know how an infant is feeling, pediatricians and parents must look for certain signs and symptoms of brachial plexus injury, which can include the following:
- Baby does not move lower arm, hand, or fingers;
- Baby does not display Moro reflex on one side of the body; or
- Baby is unable to grip or has difficulty gripping with the affected hand.
Your pediatrician will diagnose your child’s condition, and it is important to speak to a healthcare professional if you notice any signs or symptoms of Klumpke palsy. If your child is diagnosed with Klumpke palsy, you should speak to an experienced birth injury lawyer to determine if you are eligible to seek compensation for your child’s birth injury.