Appendicitis is a highly treatable condition, but complications can result when it is misdiagnosed. A misdiagnosis that causes harm to the patient may qualify as medical malpractice.
Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix. Inflammation is often caused by a blockage in the lining of the appendix, which allows bacteria to quickly multiply. This causes the organ to be swollen, painful, and filled with pus.
The most common symptoms of appendicitis are:
- Sudden pain in the lower right side of the abdomen
- Sudden pain beginning around the navel and traveling to the lower right abdomen
- Pain that increases with walking or coughing
- Nausea, vomiting, and loss of appetite
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Low grade fever
Appendicitis is diagnosed in several different ways, including:
- Physical exam. The purpose of a physical exam is to assess pain. The doctor applies gentle pressure to see if there is abdominal rigidity and inflammation in the adjacent peritoneum. A rectal exam may also be done.
- Blood test. High white blood cell counts indicate the possibility of infection.
- Urine test. A urinary tract infection or kidney stone can cause similar symptoms as appendicitis, so a urine test is the quickest way to rule out these possibilities.
- Imaging tests. An abdominal X-ray, ultrasound, or CT scan can be done to confirm the diagnosis of appendicitis or check for other causes of the pain.
Since the appendix is not necessary for good health, treatment for inflammation involves surgery to remove the organ. An appendectomy can be done as an open surgery or as a laparoscopic procedure using a few small incisions and special surgical tools with a video camera. In both cases, patients are given a dose of antibiotics before surgery to reduce the risk of infection.
Common Diagnosis Errors
Due to the overlap in symptoms, appendicitis can be misdiagnosed as a number of different conditions, including:
- Crohn’s disease
- Colonic carcinoma
- Ectopic pregnancy
- Intestinal obstruction
- Leaking aortic aneurysm
- Pelvic inflammatory disease
- Perforated peptic ulcer
- Severe menstrual cramps
- Urinary tract infection
Since many of these conditions are considered gynecological disorders, it's not surprising that appendicitis is most commonly misdiagnosed in women of childbearing age. However, children, seniors, and the mentally ill are also vulnerable because of their difficulty in accurately explaining their symptoms to a care provider.
Complications of Misdiagnosed Appendicitis
A misdiagnosis of appendicitis can lead to the following serious complications:
- Ruptured appendix. If the appendix ruptures, it spreads infection throughout the abdomen. This is potentially life-threatening. It requires surgery to remove the organ and clean the abdominal cavity.
- Abscess. A pocket of pus that forms in the abdomen can create an abscess that must be drained by placing a tube through the abdominal wall. The tube is left in place for two weeks, and the patient is given large doses of antibiotics. After the infection is cleared, surgery is done to remove the appendix.
Filing a Malpractice Claim for Misdiagnosis
Misdiagnosis of appendicitis is not automatically considered malpractice. Malpractice requires you to prove the following four elements:
- Duty. The defendant owed you a duty of care while acting in a professional capacity as a healthcare provider.
- Breach of duty. The defendant violated the standard of care in treating your condition.
- Damages. You have suffered an injury resulting in compensable expenses.
- Causation. Your injury was caused by the defendant's violation of the standard of care.
If you can prove the required elements for your case, your settlement can include compensation for medical care related to the malpractice injury, loss of wages from the time you were unable to work as the result of your injury, and pain and suffering.
To protect your rights, it's best to work with a skilled medical malpractice attorney who can prepare the strongest possible case on your behalf. The attorneys at Neblett, Beard & Arsenault are dedicated to helping Louisiana residents who've been the victims of medical malpractice receive the maximum compensation they're entitled to under the law. Call to schedule a free, no-obligation initial consultation.