Firm-Wide blog

A Single Misdiagnosis Can Be Fatal

By Burg Simpson
December 5, 2017
4 min read

For many patients, hearing about a misdiagnosis sounds like a doctor simply got it wrong – you have pneumonia, not the flu. Get a new prescription and everything will be fine. It happens all the time, certainly more often than drug errors or surgical mistakes. Anywhere between 10 percent and 20 percent of cases are initially misdiagnosed. That works out to roughly 12 million patients annually who receive a misdiagnosis on their first visit. Even worse, 28 percent of those diagnostic errors turn out to be life-threatening, if not outright fatal.

Diagnostic errors, which typically affect women and older patients disproportionally, generally fall into one of three areas:

  • Misdiagnosis – This is when your doctor decides you have a different medical condition than what you actually have. For example, your doctor declares you have acid reflux, when in fact you have throat cancer.
  • Failed diagnosis – This happens when your doctor dismisses your symptoms and declares you healthy. This can also refer to a situation where your doctor was able to diagnosis an illness but failed to identify a second illness, whether it is related or not.
  • Delayed diagnosis – This occurs when your doctor makes a proper diagnosis, but not in a timely manner.

When a poor diagnosis results in an injury or makes an existing illness even worse, it is critical that you speak with a medical injury lawyer.

Cases of Misdiagnosis

The Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that cancer is improperly diagnosed nearly 30 percent of the time. When it comes to cancer, timing is critical. A delayed diagnosis, particularly common in cases of colon and lung cancer, can literally be the difference between life and death. For the most part, the longer it takes to get a proper diagnosis, the more aggressive the treatment may be. At the same time, the chances of recovery dwindle with every delay.

Heart Attack
One study last year revealed that about one in three heart attack victims are misdiagnosed when they are first admitted to the hospital. Women, who do not necessarily exhibit the classic symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pains, have it even worse: half of them are misdiagnosed after a heart attack. What is particularly tragic is that heart attacks do not have to be as fatal as they once were. If diagnosed properly – and most importantly, quickly – heart attacks can be easily treated.

Pulmonary embolism
A pulmonary embolism is simply to an obstruction in one of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs, typically caused by blood clots. While these events can certainly be fatal, rapid treatment is absolutely critical. Unfortunately, pulmonary emboli are frequently misdiagnosed since their symptoms are so similar to asthma or bronchitis. If a pulmonary embolism is not diagnosed promptly or properly, the outcome can be deadly.

Sepsis is a deadly illness brought on by a bacterial infection. To fight it, the body pours chemicals into the bloodstream that can cause an inflammatory response. This can cascade into several other events, damaging or even shutting down vital organs. Septic shock usually follows, which drags down the blood pressure and can be fatal. Sepsis is a medical emergency and must be treated immediately.

Stroke is the leading cause of adult disability and one of the leading causes of death in the United States. When recognized and treated quickly, the damage caused by a stroke can be mitigated, and the likelihood of survival and recovery improve significantly. But failure to diagnose a stroke can lead to avoidable brain injury or even death.

A medical misdiagnosis is much more than just a simple mistake. It can be a disabling or even life-threatening. If you or a loved one has been injured because of misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis, call the Denver medical malpractice lawyers as soon as possible at 303-792-5595 or fill out a free case evaluation form today.

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