Failure to Diagnose Stroke

Quick diagnosis and treatment of a stroke can not only save lives, but it critical in preventing permanent disability for survivors. Once a stroke occurs it starts a chain reaction in which brain cell killing chemicals are released, and brain injury begins. Prompt treatment can stop this and in some cases can reverse the damage.

When a stroke goes undiagnosed, treatment is delayed or not given at all and the damage continues often resulting in:
• Another more severe stroke
• Brain injury
• Paralysis, often on one side of the body
• Loss of motor skills
• Memory problems
• Difficulty speaking and/or understanding words
• Difficulty reading and writing
• Difficulty swallowing
• Seizures
• Pain
• Behavioral changes
• Depression
• Death
In fact, stroke is the leading cause of adult disability and the third leading cause of death in the United States.

Predicting a stroke
Alert doctors and emergency room staff can sometimes prevent a stroke from occurring in the first place by:
• Recognizing the warning signs, including a “mini-stroke”
• Carefully reviewing patient history
• Conducting a detailed physical exam
• Performing an ultrasound of the carotid arteries or angiograms (radiology study of the arteries)
• Administering the appropriate treatment, often including blood thinners

A “mini-stroke,” technically called transient ischemic attack (TIA), is a warning sign that a more serious and harmful stroke is on the way. TIA typically resolves on its own, usually lasting no more than 10 or 20 minutes, but should not go untreated. Prompt diagnosis and treatment of a mini-stroke can prevent a damaging and life-threatening stroke from happening later. For those who are treated properly, a mini-stroke is like getting a second chance.

Stroke symptoms
The symptoms of a stroke re the same whether it is a severe, life-threatening stroke or a mini-stroke, and should always be taken seriously, even if you are not a likely candidate for a stroke. These symptoms include:
• Weakness or tingling in a limb
• Sudden loss of strength in the legs
• Weakness, heaviness, numbness, or paralysis (usually on one side of the body)
• Severe headache
• Confusion
• Loss of vision
• Change of vision, such as dimness, blurriness, or double vision
• Dizziness, loss of balance, loss of coordination
• Difficulty speaking or finding words
• Difficulty understanding speech
• Fainting

How strokes go undetected
Doctors and emergency room staff overlook strokes for many reasons, but often because stroke victims do not always fit the profile for a likely candidate. Mistakes leading to misdiagnosed stroke include:
• Errors in recording intake interview
• Failure to consider patient’s medical history
• Failure to consider stroke in younger patients
• Failure to consider stroke in patients that seem healthy
• Failure to order necessary tests
• Laboratory error
• Improper reading of tests