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Failure to Diagnose Stroke

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August 10, 2022

Despite continued medical advances, stroke remains a leading cause of death and disability in the United States. In fact, according to the CDC, every year more than 795,000 people in the United States have a stroke. A stroke can cause permanent brain damage, impacting an individual’s physical and cognitive functioning and, in some cases, can lead to death. The injuries caused by stroke are immeasurable and often devastate patients and their loved ones. It is therefore important for clinicians to recognize the warning signs and symptoms of strokes so that these very harms can be avoided or mitigated. When a medical provider fails to appreciate that a patient is exhibiting stroke-like symptoms, or when the medical provider fails to treat a patient’s stroke in a timely manner, the harms that it can cause may be due to medical malpractice. 

What is a stroke?

A stroke refers to a blockage or rupture of a blood vessel in the brain, thereby preventing certain areas of the brain from receiving oxygen and nutrients. When that occurs, brain cells will die. If this blockage or rupture is not treated in a timely manner, the damage to the brain will be irreversible, and this can lead to permanent injury or death. 

There are two types of strokes: ischemic and hemorrhagic. An ischemic stroke occurs when a blockage, or clot, prevents blood and oxygen flowing to the brain. This is the most common type of stroke. In some cases, the blockage is temporary and resolves on its own, and in those cases, the patient may have experienced something called a TIA (transient ischemic attack) or a “mini stroke.” When a patient has a “mini stroke,” that is usually a significant warning sign that should be evaluated appropriately by medical providers to avoid a more serious stroke that can cause permanent deficits or death.

A hemorrhagic stroke occurs when the blood vessel ruptures, thereby preventing blood flow to the brain. These typically occur when a patient has weakened blood vessels, usually when a patient has an aneurysm or an arteriovenous malformation (AVM). These are also most commonly seen when a patient has uncontrolled high blood pressure.

What are the signs and symptoms of a stroke?

Given the long-lasting harms that a stroke can cause, it is important for medical personnel to recognize the signs and symptoms of a stroke so that it can be identified and treated quickly. Prompt treatment is important to avoid permanent harm or death. 

Classic signs and symptoms of a stroke include:

  • Facial drooping or numbness
  • One-sided arm or leg weakness
  • Difficulty or slurring with speech
  • Sudden confusion 
  • Trouble seeing in one or both eyes
  • Dizziness, loss of balance, or difficulty walking
  • Sudden onset severe headache with no known cause

Early recognition of these signs and symptoms of stroke is key, as quick treatment can increase the likelihood of a patient’s survival and decrease the likelihood of permanent disability. 

How is a stroke treated?

Identifying a stroke is half the battle. Once a medical professional suspects a stroke, the healthcare provider needs to order diagnostic imaging of the brain (typically a CT scan) to confirm whether the patient’s symptoms are due to a stroke and, if so, what type of stroke is causing those symptoms. Sometimes a CT scan cannot detect a very recent ischemic stroke. In those cases, a medical provider will either make the diagnosis based on the patient’s symptoms, or order further imaging studies, such as an MRI. If a stroke is confirmed, and depending on the type, a medical provider may be able to treat the stroke with different methods, including:

  • Medications, including aspirin and blood thinners
  • A “clot busting” medication called r-tPA
  • A procedure called mechanical thrombectomy

The effectiveness of these interventions depends on a number of factors, including when the stroke symptoms began, what type of stroke the patient is having, where in the brain the stroke is occurring, and the patient’s other health conditions. A medical professional needs to consider these factors and all relevant medical facts of the case so that timely treatment can occur to avoid the terrible injuries that a stroke can cause.

What permanent injuries can a stroke cause?

If a stroke is not identified or treated in an appropriate and timely manner, a patient can unfortunately die or suffer significant brain damage. The brain damage caused by a stroke can cause a patient to become incontinent, have difficulty with swallowing or eating, or develop weakness or paralysis. It can also impact a patient’s mental function, including a patient’s memory, ability to solve simple problems, ability to see things correctly, or ability to speak. A stroke can also cause difficulty sleeping, depression or feelings of sadness, moodiness, and other emotional disturbances. 

Whether the patient has died or suffered significant physical and mental injuries from a stroke, the consequences can devastate a family. A stroke can prevent a patient from returning to work, impose significant burdens on a family due to the loss of a loved one, and cause significant and costly medical care. It is therefore important that a medical professional do everything to avoid the injuries associated with a stroke by recognizing its signs and symptoms, and treating it promptly and appropriately. 

Why do I need a lawyer if I or a loved one suffered a stroke?

After you or a loved one had a stroke, you most likely are looking for answers to questions like, “Why did this happen?,” “Was this preventable?,” “Should this have been treated differently?,” “Will I ever regain the function I had before the stroke?,” or “Did the doctors and healthcare providers do everything they could?” Many times, healthcare providers do not, or will not, answer these questions. An experienced medical malpractice lawyer has the knowledge and resources necessary to get you and your family answers at a time when you are suffering physically, emotionally, and financially. And, when the healthcare providers refuse to accept responsibility for the harms that they caused, a lawyer can hold them accountable so that you and your loved ones can obtain compensation to pay for medical bills and the ongoing care that results from the stroke. Having the assistance of an attorney significantly improves a victim’s chances of getting the compensation that they need to address injuries caused by medical malpractice.

Why Morris James?

The medical malpractice attorneys at Morris James have handled many stroke cases and know how to investigate and pursue these claims. They will fight to make sure the healthcare providers who failed to recognize and treat a stroke appropriately are held accountable and provide the answers you deserve. We listen to each client and we fight zealously for them. We know the tactics and strategies employed by insurers and healthcare institutions, and we know how to fight against them. Our attorneys will help you to obtain the financial compensation that you need and deserve.

At Morris James, our attorneys have been standing up for victims since we opened our doors in 1932. If you have other questions about a stroke, contact us online or call us at 302.655.2599 to learn more.

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