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Can a Stroke be Misdiagnosed?

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According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) over 795,000 people in the United States suffer a stroke each year, one stroke occurring roughly every 40 seconds. Strokes are a leading cause of long-term disability, reducing mobility in over half of survivors aged 65 and above. In 2020, one out of six cardiovascular related deaths were from strokes.

To increase the chance of survival and recovery, treatment must begin as soon as possible. For this to happen there must first be a correct diagnosis. Sometimes stroke symptoms are subtle rather than apparent. Signs may be mistaken for other medical issues. On top of this, medical professionals are less likely to believe certain demographics of patients are experiencing strokes.

When a stroke is misdiagnosed, the consequences can be immense. The CDC states the cost of medical care and lost wages due to stroke was almost $53 billion between 2017 and 2018. It may mean a person is no longer able to interact with loved ones as they used to. It may even mean the loss of a loved one’s life.

If you or a loved one experienced a misdiagnosed stroke and its aftermath, you may be entitled to compensation. Consult with an attorney experienced with medical malpractice cases. They will help you navigate the legal system and fight to ensure you receive the payout you are entitled to.

What is a Stroke?

A stroke happens when disrupted blood flow occurs to a portion of a brain. The lack of nutrients and oxygen cause brain cells to die in a matter of minutes. This leads to lasting brain damage or death. There are several types of strokes.

Ischemic Stroke:

When a stroke is caused by blocked blood flow, it is an ischemic stroke. The CDC reports 87 percent of all strokes are ischemic. Blood clots are a typical cause. Fatty deposits known as plaque may build up in blood vessels. This narrowing, known as stenosis, can also hinder blood flow.

Hemorrhagic Stroke:

When a blood vessel leaks or ruptures into the brain, it is a hemorrhagic stroke. The misplaced blood places pressure on brain cells, leading to damage. High blood pressure, arteriovenous malformations (AVM), and arterial bulges known as aneurysms are some causes of hemorrhagic strokes.

Transient Ischemic Attack:

If blood flow is blocked for a few minutes before resuming, it is a transient ischemic attack (TIA.) They are sometimes referred to as “warning strokes” or “mini strokes.” As with major strokes, TIAs are medical emergencies. If left untreated, there is more than a one in three chance of another stroke occurring within a year.

Why is Early Intervention of a Stroke Important?

Every minute is crucial when it comes to preventing brain cell deaths. The sooner a person receives emergency care, the more likely they are to survive. A person who visits an emergency room within three hours of initial symptoms typically have fewer long-term effects. Someone who experienced delayed treatment are more likely to experience severe disabilities.

What are Common Stroke Symptoms?

Many symptoms seem sudden to come on suddenly, including:

  • Weakness or numbness in the face, arms, or legs, often focused on one side of the body.
  • Dizziness, loss of balance or coordination and difficulty walking.
  • Trouble seeing out of one or both of their eyes.
  • Rapid onset confusion.
  • Severe headache.
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding spoken words.

What Long-Term Injuries Result from a Stroke?

The brain cell deaths arising from a stroke can lead to a range of physical, emotional, and cognitive issues. Among these are bodily weakness or paralysis, trouble speaking, difficulty swallowing, continence issues and trouble seeing. Cognitive deficits include memory impairments and reduced ability to solve simple problems. Emotional disturbances may manifest as trouble sleeping, moodiness or depression.

Indirectly, there is harm to a person’s finances and relationships. There is the cost of medical treatment, rehabilitation and long-term care. If person is unable to continue working, there are also loss of wages to consider. A reduced ability to interact with loved ones and resume the same activities as before may harm their familial and social lives.

Why Are Strokes Misdiagnosed?

There is no one reason a stroke may be misdiagnosed. A medical professional may see the patient’s symptoms and come to a different conclusion. Depending on the patient’s demographics, professionals may not consider strokes a possibility. Mistakes may also happen during the testing process.

Differential Diagnosis

Many stroke symptoms are not unique to the condition. Medical professionals may see a patient exhibiting signs of distress and come to separate diagnoses. They may even conclude the issue is not neurological.


Migraines come in many forms, and involve a wide range of symptoms, including those which overlap with strokes. Weakness on one side of the body, headaches, trouble speaking and changes in consciousness for example are both symptoms of stroke and hemiplegic migraines.

Complicating matters are that people with a history of certain migraines are at increased risk of strokes. Doctors may look at a patient’s records and diagnose another migraine without looking closely.

Post Seizure Symptoms

Strokes and post seizure experiences may also look similar. Both can include headache, muscle weakness, confusion and trouble with language. Someone with only partial knowledge of a patient’s condition may mistake a stroke for a seizure disorder.

Non-Neurological Diagnoses

Symptom overlap is not limited to brain disorders. Issues involving balance, headaches, confusion or dizziness might come from ear infections or vertigo. Dizziness combined with confusion and trouble speaking might be read as hypoglycemia. Difficulty walking and talking could mimic intoxication. Doctors should run a variety of tests to confirm a patient’s condition or rule out possibilities.

Testing Errors

Sometimes medical testing does not have the desired outcome. A mistake may happen in the laboratory or when handling diagnostic equipment. Even if a test is successful, a doctor might not read it as carefully as they should. Misread or misinterpreted results could be deadly for the patient.

Medical Bias

If a doctor does not believe the patient is having a stroke, they may not provide a thorough physical exam. Tests and treatment may get delayed. The doctor may also hesitate to consult a stroke specialist in a timely fashion. These delays can lead to greater brain damage and even death.

Medical professionals may exhibit bias towards a patient due to age, race, gender, medical history or other factors. For example, people who experience migraines with auras, especially women, are at an increased risk of stroke. A doctor might decide a female patient is experiencing another migraine and not test for a stroke.

When is a Stroke Misdiagnosis Malpractice?

“Standard of care” is a legal term regarding the amount of care a typical medical professional within their specialty would provide. A doctor may be held liable for malpractice if they fail to meet the standard of care. In terms of stroke, this can include failure to administer appropriate treatment, thorough testing or consulting a stroke specialist.

Proving a patient received substandard medical care can be challenging. Healthcare providers and institutions are often unwilling to admit errors occurred. A medical malpractice attorney can help build your case and hold those liable for the misdiagnosis responsible.

The Dayton Medical Malpractice Lawyers at Wright & Schulte LLC Fight for Clients with Misdiagnosed Stokes and their Families

If you or someone you love suffered a stroke and was misdiagnosed, reach out to an experienced attorney. Our Dayton medical malpractice lawyers at Wright & Schulte LLC will provide you the personalized and dedicated representation you deserve. We will fight for your rights and help you receive the compensation you are entitled to. Call us today at 937-222-7477 or complete our online form to schedule a free consultation. From our offices in Dayton, Vandalia, and Cleveland, we serve clients in Cincinnati, Columbus, Cleveland, Centerville, Toledo, Youngstown, Miamisburg and throughout Ohio.