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Stroke Misdiagnosis: Impacts and Implications

A recent review published by the US Department of Health & Human Services revealed that 7.4 million patients are misdiagnosed each year during Emergency Room (ER) visits. The #1 misdiagnosed condition that causes serious related harm is stroke.

While most people are familiar with the term stroke, very few are aware of how to recognize the symptoms of stroke or how serious the condition can be when treatment is delayed. Stroke is a medical condition that affects close to 800,000 Americans every year.

If a hospital or ER does not correctly diagnose a stroke, their failure to act would be considered medical malpractice.

Stroke Misdiagnosis Impacts and Implications - KMW

What is a Stroke?

There are two broad categories of stroke: (1) ischemic, and (2) hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when the blood supply to parts of the brain is reduced or blocked by a blood clot or other particles, preventing the brain from receiving the necessary oxygen and nutrients from the blood. Alternatively, a hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain leaks blood or bursts. Hemorrhagic strokes are typically caused by high blood pressure.

Sometimes a precursor to an ischemic stroke, is a history of transient ischemic attack(s) (TIA), which occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked for a shorter period, typically no more than five minutes. A TIA does not damage the brain. However, a TIA is a “warning stroke” because it is a cautionary sign that a major stroke may occur in the future. As such, it is important to seek treatment.

No matter the type, either ischemic or hemorrhagic, when stroke treatment is delayed, parts of the brain can become damaged or die, and lead to catastrophic injuries such as long-term disability, longstanding brain damage, or even death. Therefore, a stroke is considered a medical emergency and requires immediate medical care and attention.

When Are Strokes Misdiagnosed?

As stated previously, stroke is the number one misdiagnosed condition in the country’s ERs. Many misdiagnoses appear to be attributable to a failure to recognize stroke in the presence of “mild, non-specific or transient neurological complaints”. These complaints or symptoms include headache, nausea, vertigo, generalized weakness, fatigue, altered mental status, and inability to answer correctly, among others.

Since these complaints are common in the ER and can have several different causes, diagnostic errors occur. It becomes a challenge to completely eliminate these errors without performing neuroimaging.

Additionally, two widespread beliefs pertinent to strokes create a bias for errors to happen

  1. They usually affect older individuals, typically over the age of 50, and
  2. They affect more men than women.

As a result, when a younger patient visits the ER with stroke-like symptoms, or alternatively, a female, their symptoms are more likely to be dismissed as something other than stroke. These biases can lead to misdiagnoses or delays in proper diagnoses or treatment.

Such misdiagnoses can result in serious health-related complications for patients that could otherwise have been avoided.

What Are the Consequences of Stroke Misdiagnosis?

Stroke is one of the most common and dangerous misdiagnosed medical events in the United States. Stroke is the leading cause of serious disability or death in the United States. But, early diagnosis and treatment for the condition can lower the risk of permanent injury or death. With a stroke, Time Is Brain, and the earlier the diagnosis and subsequent treatment the better the outcome.

Stroke misdiagnoses can lead to many serious medical disabilities and complications. In addition to paralysis, speech impediments, and neurological deficits, other serious complications can occur such as pneumonia, urinary tract infection, gastrointestinal bleeding, pulmonary embolism, and more. Depression can also arise post-stroke, especially if the individual is cognizant of the life changes the stroke has caused. Strokes also negatively affect the family members of the stroke victim because oftentimes they are left to care for a once independent–now dependent–loved one.

Is There a Stroke Specialist?

So, what type of doctor or specialist should treat a stroke patient? Oftentimes, a patient’s first encounter at the hospital is with an ER Doctor. However, doctors trained in brain imaging – neuroradiologists, brain conditions (neurologists), and brain surgery (neurosurgeons) are the type of doctors/specialists who should treat stroke patients. These doctors are called in to evaluate the patient by the ER Doctor. Because of the need for different specialties to adequately diagnose and treat the patient, a team of specialists is typically involved in stroke care.

Stroke Misdiagnosis Liability

Long-term complications of a stroke can be reduced or eliminated with early diagnosis and proper and prompt treatment to the stroke patient. When medical professionals fail to properly diagnose a stroke patient and the delayed diagnosis leads to permanent injury or death, then the stroke patient or his or her family may be able to pursue a medical malpractice suit. In cases of negligence, some of the errors made by medical professionals include the following:

  • Negligence in early neurologic consultation with a specialist;
  • Misdiagnosis, delayed diagnosis, or no diagnosis of a stroke;
  • Delayed testing for stroke;
  • Failure to recognize stroke-like symptoms in younger and/or seemingly healthier patients;
  • Failure to perform a complete physical examination;
  • Failure to order appropriate tests that can identify or rule out stroke;
  • Failure to obtain the patient’s full medical history either from the patient or the patient’s advocate; or
  • Failure to consider stroke on a differential diagnosis.

If you suspect medical malpractice occurred in the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of stroke causing serious injury or death for you or your loved one, you should consider consulting a KMW medical malpractice attorney to see if you have a compensable claim. The financial effects of a serious condition like stroke and its misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can have a devastating effect on the patient and the patient’s family.

To determine whether you have a case, an experienced KMW medical malpractice attorney will perform a thorough investigation to find out if the required standard of medical care was met in your matter. If it is determined that a deviation from the standard of care occurred and led to catastrophic injuries or wrongful death, the attorney can help you proceed with a medical malpractice case. We can be reached by calling (561) 295-5825.

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