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Medical Negligence
Third Degree Tears

Third Degree Tears

Third degree tears must be diagnosed and treated soon after delivery if a woman is to avoid long-term complications. In this article we explore third degree tears in more detail, explaining what they are, how they should be repaired and what will happen if there is a delay in diagnosis.

What is a third degree tear?

A third degree tear is a serious birth injury sustained by the mother during a vaginal delivery. It involves a tear to the perineum (the area of skin between the vagina and the anus) and extends to the sphincter muscles. Third degree tears can vary in severity and can be classified as follows:

  • 3a: partial tear for the external sphincter involving less than 50% thickness
  • 3b: tear of the external sphincter involving more than 50% thickness
  • 3c: external and internal sphincter torn.

Repairing a third degree tear

Whatever the exact classification, a third degree tear must be repaired shortly after the delivery. In order to diagnose a third degree tear, a doctor or midwife should perform a vaginal and rectal examination, inserting a finger into the anal canal and a thumb into the vagina. This is the only way to confirm whether or not a third degree tear is present.

If a third degree tear is diagnosed, the patient should be taken to theatre where a repair should be performed by a qualified surgeon. The injury will be sutured together with dissolvable stitches. As long as this is carried out soon after the birth by a competent doctor, a woman stands a good chance of making a full recovery. This was established in a report which found that only 14% of women suffered faecal incontinence after a primary repair for a third degree tear.

What if there is a delay in repairing a third degree tear?

But if there is a delay, the likelihood of problems such as faecal incontinence developing become far greater. This is because a woman will be left with an unrepaired injury to her perineum and sphincter muscles, causing her to lose normal function and leading to pain, as well as incontinence of faeces and flatus.

If this delay occurs because medical professionals simply failed to detect the tear before the patient was discharged from hospital, there will be a case of medical negligence. This is because they will have failed to provide an acceptable standard of care, in turn causing a woman to suffer complications.

If you have been one such person to suffer an undiagnosed third degree tear, do not hesitate to speak to a solicitor about making a medical negligence claim.

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