Can a Stroke Be Misdiagnosed? 

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stroke misdiagnosed

A stroke occurs when the blood supply to part of the brain is decreased or disrupted, preventing the brain from receiving vital nutrients and oxygen. According to the American Stroke Association, someone dies of a stroke every four minutes in the United States.  A stroke is a medical emergency requiring immediate treatment. 

Yet, stroke is the fourth most common misdiagnosis among all major diagnostic medical errors. That is concerning because for a stroke patient, every second truly matters. Timely diagnosis and intervention can help prevent brain damage and other serious health complications and increase the chance of survival for stoke patients.

How Many Strokes Go Undiagnosed Every Year?

A cerebrovascular event is a syndrome caused by the disruption of blood supply to the brain lasting more than 24 hours or causing death. A transient ischemic attack (TIA) is a similar condition but one that resolves within 24 hours. Although TIAs typically last as little as 10 to 20 minutes, they can be a crucial warning sign that a full-blown stroke is imminent.

Without a proper diagnosis, brain cell death continues and can lead to permanent brain damage or death. One research study published in the online edition of Neurology reports that approximately 100,000 cerebrovascular events are missed during emergency room visits each year. In patients with seemingly mild or non-specific symptoms, rates of misdiagnosis range between 24 and 60 percent. 

Why Are Strokes Missed or Misdiagnosed?

A Johns Hopkins study analyzing patient data found at least 12 percent of patients admitted to hospitals for strokes had been misdiagnosed and sent home from an emergency room during the 30 days prior to their admittance.

Patients may be misdiagnosed because stroke symptoms may suggest another, less serious condition. A patient may go to the emergency room with a severe headache, only to have it dismissed as a migraine. This is true especially for individuals with a history of migraine headaches. 

Strokes are also misdiagnosed as inner-ear infections. A doctor may send a patient with pain and balance problems home with medication without running appropriate tests to rule out a more serious condition. 

Because strokes are most common among men over the age of 55, younger women with symptoms can be misdiagnosed as well. The same Johns Hopkins study determined that women and minorities were statistically more likely to have a stroke misdiagnosed. 

Even if someone is not the typical candidate for a stroke, any sign or symptom that could possibly be a stroke should be taken seriously.  

Possible Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke

Everyone should know the possible signs of a stroke or TIA so they can get medical help right away. Symptoms of a cerebrovascular event include: 

  • Balance problems 
  • Confusion or dizziness 
  • Difficulty walking 
  • Facial numbness 
  • Intense headaches
  • Slurred speech 
  • Sudden vision loss 
  • Weakness or numbness in arms or legs 

Complications of an Undiagnosed or Misdiagnosed Stroke

When a stroke progresses long enough to cause permanent brain damage, the patient may experience a range of complications that impact their ability to function. 

Stroke complications may include: 

  • Emotional disturbances: Including anxiety, depression, and anger issues
  • Language difficulties: Trouble speaking, reading, writing, and communicating with others 
  • Motor control problems: Difficulty walking, moving one’s arms, keeping one’s balance, and full or partial paralysis 
  • Unpredictable physical sensations: Sudden onset of numbness, tingling, pain; or the inability to feel temperature, pressure, or pain 

Can a Stroke Be Prevented?

In some cases, timely medical treatment can detect or even prevent a stroke. However, health care providers must be vigilant for subtle signs of a cerebrovascular event. It is critical they take proper time and care to thoroughly assess the patient’s health history and perform a full physical examination. Even if a stroke cannot be prevented, rapid intervention may successfully reduce permanent damage. 

Why Do Medical Mistakes Happen?

Doctors, nurses, and other health care providers have a duty to provide a certain standard of care for every patient they encounter. That standard is the type and quality of care that a reasonably skilled and competent health care professional with similar experience would provide under the same circumstances. 

A medical mistake may have occurred if the doctor: 

  • Fails to complete a full health history 
  • Waits too long to consult a neurological specialist 
  • Fails to order appropriate tests or misinterpret the results 
  • Overlooks stroke symptoms because the patient is young or appears healthy 

What Should I Do if My Doctor Misdiagnosed Me?

It is natural to feel confused and frustrated if your health issues could have been reduced or prevented with proper medical care. If your health care provider overlooked your symptoms and misdiagnosed your stroke, you should speak with a lawyer as soon as possible to learn your rights and legal options after a medical mistake. 

Medical Malpractice Claims for Misdiagnosis

Medical malpractice often goes unreported because victims are too traumatized to speak out, or they assume their concerns will be dismissed. Dealing with a well-known physician, practice, or hospital system can be intimidating. However, accountability for health care providers is essential to maintain a high standard of care and protect future patients. 

A valid medical malpractice case has three elements. First, negligence must occur. In the case of a misdiagnosed stroke, a failure to run proper tests or consult with a neurologist for a patient in the ER may constitute negligence. 

Next, it must be proved that a health care provider’s negligence caused the patient harm. For a stroke victim, harm is most likely permanent brain damage leading to physical and cognitive disability. 

Finally, the patient must have damages caused by a provider’s negligence. Economic damages might include present and future medical bills. Non-economic damages are not as easy to quantify, but they are just as impactful. They include physical and emotional pain and the inability to engage in favorite activities or hobbies. 

Not All Medical Errors Constitute Malpractice

It is important to remember that physicians and other clinicians are human. Humans make mistakes. And medicine is not a perfect science. Health care providers often have to make difficult judgment calls and weigh the benefits and risks of different courses of treatments. 

Also, it is unfortunate, but not every patient’s condition is treatable. If a suffering patient does not respond to treatment but the treatment is appropriate, malpractice is probably not a factor.  Every malpractice case rests on the presumption that the health care provider failed to meet the acceptable standard of care under the circumstances. 

Be Your Own Advocate for Your Health and Wellness

The reality is you cannot always depend on your doctor to diagnosis your symptoms. If you believe that something is really wrong, but your doctor will not listen, ask to see another provider in the emergency room. Delays in care can lead to permanent brain damage.  

A second opinion is always a good idea if you have concerns about your diagnosis or level of care from any health care provider. We all have a responsibility to play an active role in our health and well-being and be our own advocate. 

If you have concerns or questions about a medical diagnosis or procedure, contact an experienced medical malpractice lawyer near you for guidance. 

Baltimore Medical Malpractice Lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton Advocate for Patients Injured by Negligent Health Care Providers 

If you were harmed by a wrong diagnosis or other medical mistake, the Baltimore medical malpractice lawyers at LeViness, Tolzman & Hamilton will fight for you. After carefully assessing your case, we calculate your current and future needs with the goal of obtaining full and fair compensation for your life-changing injuries. Call us today at 800-547-4LAW (4529) or contact us online to schedule a free consultation.

Our offices are conveniently located in BaltimoreGlen Burnie, and Prince George’s County, where we represent clients throughout Maryland, including those in Anne Arundel CountyCarroll CountyHarford CountyHoward CountyMontgomery CountyPrince George’s CountyQueen Anne’s CountyMaryland’s Western CountiesSouthern Maryland and the Eastern Shore, as well as the communities of CatonsvilleEssexHalethorpeMiddle RiverRosedale, Gwynn OakBrooklandvilleDundalkPikesvilleParkvilleNottinghamWindsor MillLuthervilleTimoniumSparrows PointRidgewood, and Elkridge.