Stroke Misdiagnosis & What You Need to Know
A stroke is one of the most serious medical emergencies that a person can have. If not properly diagnosed and treated quickly, a stroke can leave the victim with permanent brain damage or other neurological impairment. And while the symptoms of a stroke are well-known to the medical community, there are still cases where doctors and other healthcare providers miss the obvious signs and fail to properly identify a stroke before it is too late.
About 800,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke each year, according to the Mayo Clinic. There are two common types of strokes. The first is what is called an ischemic stroke where a blocked artery cuts off blood circulation to the brain. The second type is called a hemorrhagic stroke, which occurs when a blood vessel leaks or bursts, causing blood to spill into the brain. Of the two, ischemic strokes are the more common, representing about 85 percent of all documented strokes.
A stroke can happen to anyone, but certain people are considered more vulnerable to them. For example, people over the age of 55 are more likely to have strokes than younger people. African-American men are also at higher risk. So are people who have a family history of strokes. Other factors that may place a person at a greater chance of a stroke include being overweight, lack of physical activity, high blood pressure, diabetes, and sleep apnea.
How Do You Know If a Stroke Is Happening?
A stroke typically lasts just a few minutes. But there are usually some advanced warning signs. Some common symptoms of a stroke include:
- sudden difficulty speaking or understanding what others are saying;
- paralysis or numbness in the face, arm, or leg on one side of the body;
- difficulty seeing in either or both eyes;
- a loss of balance or other difficulty walking; or
- a sudden and severe headache.
It is important to seek immediate medical attention if you or someone in your family is experiencing any of these symptoms. Time is always of the essence when dealing with a potential stroke. Even a short delay in treatment can lead to permanent damage.
Why Would Doctors Fail to Diagnose a Stroke?
Healthcare providers–particularly emergency departments–should have detailed procedures in place to diagnose and treat stroke patients. This process usually includes the following steps:
- review the patient’s symptoms;
- conduct a complete physical exam;
- order blood tests;
- order a CT or MRI scan to obtain an image of the brain; and
- order carotid ultrasound to examine the arteries that provide blood flow to the brain.
In the case of an ischemic stroke, doctors must try and restore the flow of blood to the brain as quickly as possible. This can be done by using an IV to administer medicine that breaks up any blood clots blocking the flow. In some cases, surgical intervention may also be necessary to remove the clot. Concerning hemorrhagic strokes, the goal is to control any internal bleeding and reduce pressure inside the brain. This is typically done with medication, although again surgery may be required.
There are many ways the diagnosis and treatment process can break down, thus delaying the prompt treatment of a stroke. Some common examples of medical errors include:
- The doctor who initially examines the patient fails to take a proper medical history or conduct a complete physical exam.
- The doctor fails to order the necessary tests to confirm a stroke diagnosis, or there are excessive delays in conducting the tests.
- The laboratory that performs the tests makes a mistake that leads to a missed or incorrect diagnosis.
- The emergency room doctor fails to seek a consultation with a neurological or surgical specialist promptly.
In some cases, a doctor may fail to even consider a stroke diagnosis based on their profiling of the patient. For instance, a person who is young and otherwise healthy but presents with a sudden and severe headache may not present as a possible stroke victim, so the emergency room doctor decides not to order an MRI or CT scan. The patient is then sent home and left to suffer an otherwise treatable stroke.
What Are the Consequences of Misdiagnosis?
Depending on how long the brain is deprived of proper blood flow, a stroke victim may suffer from temporary or permanent disabilities. Some of the more common consequences of a stroke include:
- paralysis on one side of the body;
- problems talking or swallowing due to loss of control of muscles in the mouth or throat;
- memory loss;
- cognitive impairment, e.g., problems with thinking or making judgments;
- difficulty controlling emotions;
- pain and numbness in certain parts of the body; and
- difficulty caring for oneself or performing daily activities.
If a patient can prove that a doctor’s missed stroke diagnosis contributed to these disabilities, they may be able to recover compensation in the form of legal damages. All healthcare professionals can be held liable for medical malpractice under New York law if they fail to perform their jobs per the minimally acceptable standard of care for their specialty. This includes cases where medical staff failed to follow the proper procedures for identifying, diagnosing, and treating a stroke.
Contact an NYC Malpractice Attorney Today
In a medical malpractice case, the patient can seek not only compensation for their out-of-pocket losses–such as their ongoing medical and rehabilitation bills–but also non-economic damages for their ongoing pain and suffering and loss of quality of life. But it is important to understand these cases are often not easy to win. Doctors and hospitals will often try to argue that a stroke could not have been prevented even with timely diagnosis and treatment.
That is why it is important to work with a qualified New York medical malpractice lawyer in NYC who has experience in handling stroke-related cases. So if you or someone that you love has been affected by a stroke and you need legal advice, contact the offices of Silberstein, Awad & Miklos, P.C., today to schedule an initial consultation.