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:
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.
We’ve all heard about the real danger of stroke and stroke misdiagnosis. Perhaps you’ve even had a family member or friend suffer from a debilitating stroke. Stroke is the number 2 most common cause of death worldwide, according to the American Stroke Association (ASA). Every 40 seconds on average, an American will have a stroke, according to the American College of Cardiology. Startling, but true. In fact, about 750,000 Americans have a new recurring stroke annually.
An article written by a long-time neurologist and published last year in the Washington Post suggested that “too many people die from a stroke because treatment is delayed.” He wrote that although for more than two decades neurologists and other emergency health providers have had access to a drug to restore blood flow to the brain, limiting the damage caused by a stroke, only about 4 percent of stroke patients actually receive the medication. The drug referred to is tissue plasminogen activator or tPA as it is more commonly called. It is a potent blood thinner. For tPA to be effective, it must be used within the first few hours of a patient experiencing a stroke.
Types of Strokes
You may hear about the dangers of a stroke, but you may not really understand what a stroke is. In simple terms, a stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is stopped or interrupted. Stroke can happen to anyone at any time. The brain needs a constant supply of oxygen and nutrients to work correctly. When blood flow stops, even for a short period of time, brain cells can begin to die from lack of oxygen. When brain cells die, brain function can be lost, and long-term damage can result.
Two types of stroke include ischemic stroke, which is caused by a blood clot, and hemorrhagic stroke, which is caused by bleeding. Ischemic stroke is the most common kind of stroke. This is the type of stroke that tPA can be effective in treating. Ischemic strokes account for approximately 87 percent of all strokes. They can happen when a major blood vessel to the brain is blocked be either by a clot or some type of plaque buildup. The buildup can be due to cholesterol, fat or another substance. A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when a blood vessel in the brain bursts and the blood leaks into nearby brain tissue. This may cause a buildup of pressure which causes further damage.
Stroke misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis
The specific type of stroke means a difference in medical treatment, so a quick and accurate diagnosis is imperative. Delayed stroke diagnosis or stroke misdiagnosis can mean valuable time lost when it comes to effectively treating a stroke victim. Failure to determine the specific type of stroke or misdiagnosing a stroke as another illness can drastically impact a patient’s chance of recovery. Stroke misdiagnosis may result in a brain hemorrhage, permanent brain damage and possibly death.
What are the signs of a stroke?
Sudden numbness or weakness of the face, arm or leg, especially on one side of the body
Confusion, trouble speaking or understanding
Sudden trouble seeing or blurred vision in one or both eyes
Unforeseen trouble walking, dizziness, loss of balance or coordination
Problems with movement or walking
Sudden severe headache with no known cause
Call 911 immediately if you or a loved one experiences any of the above signs. Take note of the time the signs began as well. Responding medical team and hospital staff will need to know.
How is a stroke diagnosed and stroke misdiagnosis avoided?
As we’ve spoken about above, stroke misdiagnosis can have dangerous results for a stroke victim. A fast and accurate diagnosis of a stroke is imperative for effective treatment and recovery. That’s why it’s so imperative that healthcare providers diagnose quickly and accurately. Tests for stroke can include a CT scan of the brain, MRI, or CTA (computed tomographic angiography) among others. Proper testing can help avoid stroke misdiagnosis. Your physician will create a treatment plan based on various factors. Treatment is most effective when it is started quickly. Recovery from stroke is often dependent on the quickness and accurateness of diagnosis and treatment, as well as the size and location of the stroke.
Know the risk factors of stroke
Are you at risk for stroke? Knowing your risk factors may help you to change things in your control to lower your risk. Here are some risk factors to watch out for. Some can be changed by you or managed medically. It’s always smart to be aware.
High blood pressure – High blood pressure is one of the leading causes of both stroke and heart disease. High blood pressure causes plaque to build up faster and can also cause blood vessels to weaken and break. It can be a cause of both ischemic and hemorrhagic strokes. If you have high blood pressure, speak to your physician about ways to lower it.
Heart disease – If you suffer from some forms of heart disease, you may be at increased risk of a stroke. Again, speak to your physician regarding combatting this.
Diabetes – High blood sugar can also increase your risk of stroke. It’s essential to carefully manage this.
Smoking – Smoking is a major risk factor for stroke that is also preventable. If you are a smoker, quit now to lower your risk.
History of TIAs (transient ischemic attacks) or mini-strokes as they are commonly called.
High cholesterol and lipids – Monitoring and controlling your cholesterol may help you reduce your risk of stroke.
Obesity & diet – Staying at a healthy weight and reducing your intake of saturated fats can help you reduce your risk of stroke. Diets high in saturated fat, trans fat and cholesterol can raise your cholesterol levels, increasing your risk. Diets high in sodium can increase your blood pressure, which also increases your risk.
Lack of exercise – Staying physically active can also help reduce your risk. Physical inactivity not only increases your risk of stroke but also heart disease.
Excessive alcohol or illegal drug use
Age – Your risk of stroke increases in people over 55 years of age and continues to increase as you get older.
Heredity and ethnicity – Stroke is more common in people who have a family history of stroke. African Americans and Hispanic Americans are also at a higher risk.
Take a quick stroke risk quiz online to assess your risk by clicking here.
Face drooping – Does one side of the face droop or is it numb?
Arm weakness – Is one arm week or numb?
Speech problems – Is speech slurred?
Time to call 911 – If someone is showing any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately.
Stroke medical malpractice
Stroke misdiagnosis can be very dangerous. We can’t mention enough that it is crucial that a stroke is diagnosed and treated quickly to minimize the long-term effects. If tPA isn’t administered within 3 hours of the start of symptoms or a patient doesn’t get the necessary surgery to stop brain bleeding, the consequences of a stroke can be permanently incapacitating. When a healthcare provider fails to accurately diagnose a stroke, a patient may suffer serious brain damage that might have been avoided with a fast diagnosis and proper treatment. Physicians, ER staff and other healthcare providers should be well aware of the warning signs and symptoms of a stroke. They should also address the risk factors when taking a patient history.
Medical standard of care
If you or a loved one suffered serious harm because a physician failed to follow the “medical standard of care,” you may have a medical malpractice case. The “medical standard of care” is defined as the level and type of care that a reasonably competent and skilled healthcare professional, with a similar background and in the same medical community, would have provided under the same circumstances. It is a possibility that the standard of care might have been violated when a physician fails to recognize the common signs of stroke or diagnoses the stroke but fails to give the proper treatment. Standard of care may have been violated if a health provider failed to take a proper medical history, failed to order appropriate tests or through a negligent surgical error. If you suspect medical negligence, it may be time to consult a medical malpractice expert.
Consulting a stroke medical malpractice attorney regarding stroke misdiagnosis
The financial effects of a debilitating stroke can have a devastating effect on a family. It can mean extensive medical and rehab bills, loss of work, and loss of quality of life. If you or a loved one has suffered serious injury due to a hospital or physician’s failure to diagnose or properly treat a stroke, you may want to speak to a medical malpractice attorney.
An experienced stroke medical malpractice lawyer will be able to conduct a thorough investigation to discover if the appropriate standard of care was met. A medical malpractice attorney can analyze the medical records, conduct interviews and look at the extent of the injury. They can determine through this investigation if a healthcare provider failed to miss a common warning sign of stroke, failed to exercise reasonable care while evaluating a patient, failed to obtain a thorough history, or failed to administer life-saving treatment, among other medical errors. They may or may not find some type of negligent medical error and can advise you as to whether or not to pursue a medical malpractice case.
Speak to a Distasio, Kowalski & Yelen stroke medical malpractice attorney in Wilkes-Barre today by calling 855-970-5400. Read more about medical malpractice or medical misdiagnosis on our website.