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Failure to Diagnose a Stroke

Every 40 seconds somewhere in the United States, someone has a stroke.

A stroke can be devastating both to the person who suffers the stroke and to his or her family. Stroke is the fourth leading cause of death among American adults, but stroke can happen at any age — even to children. About 10 to 20 percent of strokes are fatal, according to the National Institutes of Health, but even non-fatal strokes can lead to permanent or long-term disability.

Stroke victims may spend months, years, or even the rest of their lives in nursing homes or assisted living facilities struggling to regain functions lost during the stroke. They may be unable to talk or communicate, and may need help with even the most basic of functions such as eating, bathing, or using the bathroom. That can take a serious emotional and financial toll on both the stroke patient and his or her family.

With advances in medicine, more options exist now for treating stroke and minimizing the long-term effects than did in the past, but it’s crucial that stroke be treated within a matter of hours. When a physician fails to diagnose a stroke, the patient may experience serious brain damage that could have been avoided.

If you or a loved one has suffered harm because of a health provider’s failure to diagnose a stroke, you may have a medical malpractice claim. A medical malpractice claim won’t restore the functions you or your loved one lost, but it may help secure your family’s financial future through compensation of your medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering.

What is Stroke?

A stroke happens when something interrupts the flow of blood in the brain. The blood in arteries carries needed oxygen to the brain, and when blood flow stops, the brain becomes oxygen starved. When brain cells don’t receive the oxygen they need, they start to die and serious long-term damage can result.

There are two kinds of stroke:

  • Ischemic Stroke — This type of stroke happens when a blood clot blocks a blood vessel in the brain, often because of plaque build-up due to cholesterol, fat, or some other substance. High blood pressure causes plaque to build up faster and is one of the leading risk factors for stroke. Ischemic stroke accounts for about 80 percent of all strokes, according to the National Institutes of Health.
  • Hemorrhagic Stroke — This type of stroke involves a blood vessel in the brain rupturing and leaking blood into brain tissue. High blood pressure can cause blood vessels to weaken and break, leading to hemorrhagic stroke. This type of stroke also could be caused by an ruptured aneurysm. About 20 percent of strokes are hemorrhagic.

Many people will experience a transient ischemic attack, also known as a mini-stroke, first. A mini-stroke when blood flow to the brain is briefly interrupted. Symptoms usually pass within an hour, but look just like those for a stroke. Having a mini-stroke is an indicator that you’re likely to have a stroke in the future, and your doctor should discuss with you medication or lifestyle changes to prevent that possibility.

How Stroke Is Diagnosed

Physicians should be aware of the warning signs, risk factors, and symptoms of stroke and note those when taking a patient’s medical history. Risk factors include smoking, high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, and previous mini-strokes. Steps should be taken to address these risk factors through recommended lifestyle changes or treating the condition that increases risk of stroke, e.g., getting blood pressure or blood glucose to normal levels.

When someone is having a stroke, they may experience:

  • Numbness or weakness in the face, arms, or legs, or on one side of the body
  • Impaired speech or confusion
  • Vision problems
  • Dizziness, loss of coordination, or trouble walking
  • Sudden painful headache

Because stroke affects the brain, a person having a stroke may not be able to perceive his or her own symptoms or communicate them to a doctor. That makes it vitally important for the physician to recognize the symptoms and correctly diagnose stroke.

In addition to taking as complete a medical history as is possible, doctors should perform a thorough physical examination that includes checking your pulse and blood pressure, listening to your heart and lungs, checking your reflexes, and asking questions to determine if your speech, memory, or thought processes are being affected. Tests such as an MRI or CT scan also may be used to diagnose stroke.

Some ways that a doctor or other health provider may fail to diagnose stroke include:

  • Failing to take a medical history
  • Failing to perform a physical examination
  • Failing to order appropriate tests
  • Misinterpreting tests
  • Making an incorrect diagnosis
  • Failing to recognize stroke symptoms in people who outwardly appear healthy

Consequences of Failure to Diagnose Stroke

Quick treatment is critical for saving lives and avoiding long-term damage. With an ischemic stroke, the patient can be given a drug called tPA that works to dissolve the blood clot that caused the stroke. Patients who get tPA within 3 hours of the beginning of a stroke have significantly better chances at recovery. People experiencing hemorrhagic stroke may need surgery to stop the bleeding in the brain. Either way, if a doctor fails to diagnose the stroke — and diagnose it quickly — the person’s life may be on the line. If tPA isn’t administered within the 3-hour window, or the patient doesn’t get surgery to stop the bleeding inside the brain, the consequences can be permanently debilitating.

According to the National Stroke Institute, 2 million brain cells die per minute during a stroke. That can lead to catastrophic results for the person experiencing the stroke. The brain is linked to every process in the body, and stroke has the potential to damage a person’s ability to move, speak, or think. Stroke can lead to serious, permanent brain damage or physical disability. In many cases, stroke is fatal.

If you or someone you love has had a misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a stroke, you may have a medical malpractice claim. We recommend that you consult with an experienced Chicago injury lawyer who can evaluate the details of your case and walk you through your options. At Staver Law Group, we are compassionate to your situation. Call us to speak directly with one of our attorneys at .