A delay in stroke diagnosis or failure to diagnose a stroke can lead to permanent brain damage or even death. Delay in diagnosis or failure to diagnose a stroke might happen for a variety of reasons. One of the most critical mistakes a medical professional can make is a misdiagnosis of a stroke. According to the American Heart Association 2022 Heart Disease and Stroke Statistics Update Fact Sheet, stroke accounted for 1 of every 19 deaths in the United States. On average, someone died of a stroke every 3 minutes and 30 seconds.
7 Possible causes for a delay in stroke diagnosis
- Failure on the part of a medical professional to properly prioritize the care of a patient based on the severity of injury/illness.
- Failure on the part of a healthcare professional to ask about risk factors and take a detailed medical history.
- Inadequate levels of medical staff in a healthcare facility.
- Failure by a physician to conduct a proper physical exam or order the appropriate testing based on symptoms.
- Lack of experience on the part of medical staff.
- Failure to properly monitor a patient.
- Failure to follow proper protocol for stroke patients
Tests to help properly diagnose a stroke
Getting the proper medical treatment quickly when suffering a stroke is critical for minimizing the side effects and preventing death. This includes a thorough physical and neurological exam. Unfortunately, an ER doctor or other medical professional might overlook or ignore early signs of a stroke. It happens more often than you may realize, causing a critical delay in treatment. Here are some tests that can help properly diagnose a stroke.
- Magnetic resonance imaging or MRI uses powerful magnets and radio waves to take a detailed picture of a brain. It’s sharper than a CT scan and
can show injuries earlier than a traditional CT scan.
- CT scans. Through computerized tomography (CT) scans, a physician takes several x-rays from different angles and puts them together to show if there’s any bleeding in the brain or damage to brain cells.
- Carotid ultrasound. This type of ultrasound uses sound waves to find fatty deposits that may have narrowed or blocked arteries that carry blood to your brain.
- This imaging test of the heart can look for clots in the heart or enlarged parts of the heart. Sometimes clots that form in another part of the body, such as the heart, will travel to the brain.
- Angiograms of the head and neck. This is a dye test that enables a physician to see blood vessels with an X-ray. It can help find a blockage or aneurysm.
If you’re advocating for someone you believe is having a stroke, don’t be afraid to request these tests.
The use of tPA as a stroke treatment
tPA (Tissue Plasminogen Activator) is a powerful drug used to help dissolve a clot that may be causing a patient’s stroke and restore blood flow to the brain. tPA would only be given to a patient with an ischemic or blockage-type stroke. Ischemic strokes account for about 85% of all strokes in the U.S. and tPA is a common treatment of ischemic stroke caused by a clot. It would be very dangerous if given to a patient who is already bleeding, such as one suffering from a hemorrhagic stroke. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when an artery in the brain leaks blood or ruptures. For tPA to be used correctly, a brain scan is used to determine what type of stroke occurred, if there is a clot, and if so, where it is located. tPA must be given within three hours of the first sign of ischemic stroke.
Consequences of failure to diagnose a stroke
Many victims of delayed stroke diagnosis face lengthy recovery and lifelong medical bills. Importantly, failure to diagnose and properly treat a stroke can result in serious neurological impairments, including:
- Loss of motor skills
- Speech impairment
- Memory problems & difficulty understanding
- Diminished reading comprehension & writing ability
- Behavioral changes
- Difficulty eating or swallowing
When a stroke happens, minutes matter
Sadly, one of the most frequent types of medical malpractice cases we see is a failure to diagnose a stroke. As we mentioned above, stroke treatment is most successful with early intervention and proper diagnosis and care. Importantly, delay in diagnosis can have lifelong consequences for a stroke patient. The National Institute of Health reported that each year, about 795,000 people in the U.S. suffer from strokes. It is a leading cause of death and disability. If you or a loved one have been injured because of failure to diagnose a stroke, the medical misdiagnosis lawyers at Distasio & Kowalski can help.
Tap to learn more about Stroke Misdiagnosis.
Tap to read a blog about the Warning Signs & Risk Factors for a stroke.