Misdiagnosis of a Stroke

Misdiagnosis of a Stroke

Stroke is one of the leading causes of disability and death in the U.S. affecting nearly 800,000 people each year according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Unfortunately, doctors often miss the signs or misdiagnose strokes (research conducted by Johns Hopkins revealed that of the emergency room patients in their sample up to 13% had signs of a stroke, but were not properly diagnosed). Studies have further shown the risk of a misdiagnosis increases for women, minorities, and young patients.

Stroke falls into several categories:

  • Ischemic Stroke: Blood clots often cause an ischemic stroke, which is what happens when blood flow in an artery supplying oxygen-rich blood to the brain becomes blocked. Ischemic strokes are the most common, comprising about 87% of all strokes.
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke: When an artery in the brain leaks or ruptures, it can lead to a hemorrhagic stroke. High blood pressure and aneurysms (balloon-like weaknesses in the artery wall that can burst) are conditions that increase the risk for a hemorrhagic stroke.
  • Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA): Otherwise known as a “mini-stroke,” a TIA occurs when blood flow to the brain is blocked for a relatively short period of time, often just a few minutes. A TIA should be treated no differently than a major stroke because it is a clear warning sign and needs immediate medical attention.

Strokes may lead to long-term disability or even death. The chance of full recovery or decreased permanent disability from a stroke, however, improves with prompt diagnosis and medical treatment. While clot-dissolving drugs should be given within the first few hours, “ultra-early” treatment (within 90 minutes) can make an even greater difference.

Common signs and symptoms of stroke are:

  • Sudden weakness or numbness on one side of the face or limb
  • Loss or sudden dim vision, especially in one eye
  • Loss of strength, coordination, feeling, speech, or ability to understand speech
  • Loss of balance that can be accompanied with nausea, fever, or trouble swallowing
  • Sudden and severe headache
  • Passing out or fainting

An acronym to assist with remembering the signs of a stroke is FAST:

  • Face. Does one side droop when asked to smile?
  • Arms. Is one arm weak or sagging when raising both arms?
  • Speech. Are simple phrases repeated clearly?
  • Time. If a stroke is suspected, call 911 for urgent medical attention.

While persons of any age can have a stroke, those suffering from heart disease, high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and obesity have an increased risk.

If you suspect a stroke or are experiencing sudden unexplained symptoms, seek medical assistance immediately. If you or a loved one has suffered as a result of a delayed or missed stroke diagnosis, call us to understand your options.

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