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New Study Shows Strokes Misdiagnosed in Many Cases

MedPage Today reports that a new study shows that many strokes may be missed in hospital emergency departments in the days before the problems of the stroke become obvious. Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose strokes can have devastating consequences.

The study was retrospective, meaning that it looked back in time at what had happened to stroke victims in the time leading up to their strokes. The study shows that of 187,188 admissions for stroke, 12.7% of the stroke patients studied visited an emergency department and received a non-stroke-related diagnosis within the thirty days leading up to the ultimately diagnosed stroke. Doctors from Johns Hopkins University say this indicates a possibly missed stroke. One in every ten of those non-stroke related discharges were for headache or dizziness. Those were likely strokes, according to the researchers. Women, members of minority groups, and people under age 45 were most at risk for experiencing one of these undiagnosed strokes.

Effects of Failure to Diagnose Strokes:
The Harvard Medical School states that early treatment of the most common type of stroke can limit brain damage and vastly improve outcomes. Delayed treatment can close the door on treatments that can substantially diminish brain damage. Those who have been turned away from an emergency room with a “headache” diagnosis may be less likely to rush to a hospital for in the case of a future, more serious, stroke, causing more serious long term damage.

Additionally, a failure to diagnose these early strokes means that the patient will not be told what to do to try to prevent future strokes. According to the National Stroke Association, these sorts of preventative measures can include medication and other medical therapies. They can also include lifestyle changes regarding diet and exercise. In some cases doctors recommend drugs to treat other conditions that lead to stroke, like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, and heart disease. There are also medications that can diminish blood clotting that can help prevent a stroke. If the emergency department misses that first stroke, the patient will not be given any of these options, and the second more serious stroke can happen. At that point the damage will have been done.

Signs of a Stroke:
Negligence and malpractice attorneys can help try to recover for some of the losses caused by these undiagnosed strokes. But an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While doctors ultimately have to diagnose and treat strokes, there are signs one can watch for to try to get treatment as soon as possible. The American Stroke Association uses the acronym FAST to remind American what to watch for:

Face drooping. Does one side of the face droop or feel numb? Is the potential stroke victim’s smile uneven?

Arm Weakness. Is one arm weak or numb? If the person raises both arms, does one drift downward?

Speech difficulty. Is the speech slurred or is the person hard to understand, even when saying simple sentences?

Time to call 9-1-1. If someone shows these symptoms, call 9-1-1 immediately, and check the time so you will be able to tell the doctor exactly how long the symptoms have been present.

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