In Canada, stroke is the third leading cause of death following heart disease and cancer. Strokes are one of the primary causes of physical disabilities amongst Canadians, and Canadians suffer more than 50,000 strokes a year.
What is a stroke?
A stroke occurs when blood flow to the brain is interrupted or severely reduced. Only minutes after being deprived of oxygen, brain cells begin to die and the brain tissue can die within a few hours if it doesn’t receive an adequate supply of oxygenated blood. Once the brain tissues begin to die, the brain starts to lose its function and may not recover.
Some common symptoms of stroke include numbness, tingling on one side of the body, having a hard time speaking, vision and balance problems, confusion, and severe headaches or migraines. Symptoms can occur rapidly, but the subsequent complications due to stroke can persist and permanently affect an individual’s quality of life.
A medical professional typically treats a stroke patient by ordering a CT scan or MRI to determine whether or not a stroke occurred and its type. The three main types of stroke are: ischemic strokes, hemorrhagic strokes, and transient ischemic attacks.
Ischemic strokes (or clot strokes) are the most common, and they occur when blood flowing through the artery to the brain becomes blocked. During these types of strokes, the first three to four hours are critical starting when the patient first experiences signs and symptoms until the complications become more severe and incurable.
Hemorrhagic strokes (or bleeding strokes) happen when an artery in the brain leaks blood or ruptures and puts pressure on brain cells. This type of stroke causes severe headaches and can be treated through surgery if detected immediately.
Transient ischemic attacks (or mini-strokes) occur when blood flow to the brain is blocked for under 5 minutes. These types of strokes are warning signs of a future stroke. Being able to treat transient ischemic attacks can lower the risk of a major stroke occurring.
The Consequences of Misdiagnosing a Stroke
The Canadian Medical Protective Association (CMPA) recently discovered that most medical malpractice cases that had to do with stroke had issues with the diagnosis. Being able to recognize symptoms of stroke and quickly receiving medical attention is the key to minimizing the damages due to stroke, and it could also save your life.
Any delay in treatment, which includes misdiagnosis, can result in life-long disability or even death. Out of the cases reviewed by the CMPA, more than 25% of patients died and another 40% were left with a significant disability.
In these cases, the common stroke symptoms were headache, dizziness, nausea, and vomiting. In addition, delayed presentation with longer symptom duration, which spanned over days and weeks, was also observed. Cases where there was an atypical presentation of stroke symptoms were easier to defend on the physician’s part, as there was sufficient neurological assessment and the right discharge instructions were provided to a patient.
Medical malpractice cases that were more successful included circumstances where physicians:
- Failed to recognize the seriousness of a patient’s condition, like severe headache and focal neurological signs, or
- Who did not perform a full physical examination including full vital signs, orientation, speech and visual field assessment, etc.
- Developed an insufficient differential diagnosis.
- Neglected to consider the possibility of stroke in patients who have obvious risk factors like smoking, obesity, or hypertension.
- Focused on a specific diagnosis such as migraine or psychiatric disorder without considering the possibility of a stroke.
The research shows that up to 10% of strokes are not diagnosed at initial presentation. At the same time, the research shows that the earlier the diagnosis and treatment of stroke, the better.
Medical Malpractice Errors That Can Occur
In order to successfully reduce the long-term effects of a stroke, accurate diagnosis and quick treatment are essential. However, this does not always occur, and medical malpractice can happen if errors are made by medical providers, such as:
- Laboratory errors;
- Erroneous reading of tests;
- Neglecting to consult neurological specialists in a timely fashion;
- Delays in performing tests for stroke and administering treatment for stroke;
- Delayed diagnosis, misdiagnosis, or failure to diagnose stroke;
- Neglecting to perform a thorough physical examination;
- Failure to order vital tests on time;
- Failure to consider stroke in younger or seemingly healthy patients.
Not every case of misdiagnosis is medical malpractice. Medical professionals are held up to high standards, but they are not held up to standards of 100% perfection. The question becomes whether or not another medical professional presented with the same information and circumstances would have made a correct diagnosis. If so, then the physician who failed to make the proper stroke diagnosis would be held liable for medical malpractice.
Medical Malpractice Lawyers in Canada
If the misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of a stroke has caused you or your loved one a lasting disability, then it might be worth your time to review your medical records with a medical malpractice lawyer to determine if your medical care providers gave you improper, unskilled, or negligent care.
Sommers Roth & Elmaleh helps represent misdiagnosed stroke clients to help them get the legal compensation that they deserve for their damages, injuries, and unnecessary suffering. For more information about how we can help, call us at 416-961-1212 or contact us online here.
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