When is failure to diagnose a stroke a form of medical malpractice?

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When someone is suffering from a stroke, every second counts. Even a short delay in diagnosis can mean the difference between a full recovery and a permanent disability. If you or someone you love suffered a delay in diagnosis after experiencing a stroke, you may be entitled to medical malpractice compensation. Malpractice and failing to diagnose a stroke

About Stroke

A stroke is a medical emergency that occurs when blood flow to an area of the brain is cut off. A lack of blood flow prevents oxygen from reaching brain cells, causing them to die.

A stroke can be caused by:

  • A blocked artery (ischemic stroke)
  • The leaking or bursting of a blood vessel (hemorrhagic stroke)
  • Temporary disruption of blood flow to the brain (transient ischemic attack)

Strokes are the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. When victims survive, two-thirds are left with permanent disabilities related to memory and muscle control. The level of impairment a victim experiences depends on what area of the brain is affected and how quickly medical treatment is received.

Stroke Symptoms

Symptoms of a stroke usually occur without warning and are most severe when the stroke first happens. Symptoms of a stroke vary depending on what part of the brain is damaged but can include:

  • Sudden and severe headache that is worse when you change positions, bend, or cough
  • Changes in hearing, taste, touch, or the ability to feel pressure or temperature
  • Clumsiness, lack of coordination, and/or trouble walking
  • Difficulty writing and reading
  • Difficulty speaking or understanding others
  • Loss of control over bladder or bowels
  • Weakness, numbness, or tingling on one side of the body
  • Personality or mood changes

Diagnosing a Stroke

A stroke can be diagnosed with a physical examination, as well as several different diagnostic tests. These may include:

  • CT or MRI of the brain
  • Echocardiogram to see if the stroke might have been caused by a blood clot from the heart
  • Angiogram of the head to check for blocked or bleeding blood vessels
  • Carotid duplex ultrasound to see if the carotid arteries in your neck have narrowed
  • Magnetic resonance angiography (MRA) or CT angiography to check for abnormal blood vessels in the brain

Strokes are most likely to be misdiagnosed when the victim reports mild or vague symptoms. A stroke can be misdiagnosed as:

  • Normal age-related cognitive difficulties 
  • Migraine headache
  • Diabetic hypoglycemia
  • Food poisoning
  • Epilepsy
  • Depression
  • Encephalitis

Proving Medical Malpractice

A medical mistake is not necessarily malpractice. Failure to diagnose a stroke rises to the level of malpractice if you can prove the following:

  • Duty. The defendant owed you a duty of care because he was acting as your healthcare provider.
  • Breach of duty. The defendant failed to meet the required duty of care by deviating from the accepted medical standards for diagnosing a stroke.
  • Damages. You suffered a stroke-related disability such as trouble speaking or partial paralysis.
  • Causation. Your stroke-related disability would not have occurred if you had been able to receive a prompt diagnosis and the necessary medical treatment.

Causation is typically the most difficult element to prove in a stroke-related malpractice claim. You will need to produce multiple medical experts who can testify that your condition is related to a failure to diagnose the stroke in a timely manner.

Protecting Your Right to Compensation

A malpractice claim can include compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, and pain and suffering. If the case involves a victim who died from failure to diagnose a stroke, the surviving family members can seek compensation for medical expenses up to the time of death, loss of future income, pain and suffering up to the time of death, and loss of the companionship of the deceased.

The best way to protect your right to compensation for stroke-related medical malpractice is to retain an experienced malpractice attorney who can advocate for your needs throughout the settlement process. Neblett, Beard & Arsenault's legal team is dedicated to helping Louisiana residents receive the malpractice compensation they need to move forward with their lives after being harmed by a healthcare provider's negligence. Contact us online or call us directly at 318.541.8188 to schedule a free, no-obligation case review.


Richard J. Arsenault
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Recognized by several legal associations, Richard Arsenault has vast experience in complex litigation cases.