Stroke is the fifth leading cause of death in the United States. Stroke is also a major cause of severe disability for adults. With early treatment, stroke is treatable and a fast response gives individuals the greatest chance for survival and recovery. Unfortunately, stroke is still commonly misdiagnosed and leads to unnecessary injury or death.
Stroke has a number of causes, including blood clots, hemorrhage, or atherosclerosis. In some cases, a stroke can be caused by medical errors that cut off blood supply to the brain. Medical malpractice can also fail to properly treat a stroke patient, increasing the risk of permanent damage or death. When a stroke was caused by medical negligence, a medical malpractice lawsuit allows the injury victim to seek compensation for their losses.
What is a Stroke?
The brain is one of the most important organs in the body and requires a lot of energy to function. The brain consumes more glucose than other organs, receives 15% of the blood output, and 20% of oxygen consumption. Any compromise in blood glucose, blood flow, or oxygen can impair the brain's ability to control body functions.
Stroke is a medical condition that affects the blood vessels leading to and surrounding the brain. When the blood vessels are blocked or rupture, the brain may fail to get enough blood and oxygen to function. If the brain does not get enough oxygen and blood, the brain cells begin to die.
Brain cell death can begin within minutes of reduced oxygen supply. Brain cell death is generally permanent and can result in significant mental and physical disability. If the oxygen and blood supply are not returned, a stroke can be fatal.
Stroke Statistics in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every 40 seconds, someone in the U.S. has a stroke. Nearly 800,000 people in the U.S. have a stroke each year. Of those who suffer a stroke, about 140,000 die each year. This makes stroke one of the leading causes of death for Americans. According to one estimate, stroke costs the U.S. $34 billion each year in health care services, medication, and loss of productivity.
Different Types of Strokes
There are different types of stroke, based on the cause of the cut-off of blood supply. Most strokes affect the brain but spinal cord stroke can also cause serious spinal cord damage, including paralysis, paraplegia, and quadriplegia.
A stroke in the brain can occur anywhere that is connected to the blood supply, which includes almost any part of the brain. Strokes are categorized by the cause of the compromised blood supply. Types of stroke that impacts the brain include:
An ischemic stroke is diminished blood flow to the brain caused by an obstruction or blockage. Ischemic stroke is the most common type, accounting for about 87% of strokes, according to the American Stroke Association. Atherosclerosis is the narrowing of the vessel walls caused by a buildup of fatty deposits. Narrowed blood vessels create a greater risk of stroke from blockage caused by a thrombus or embolus.
Cerebral thrombosis is blockage caused by a thrombus, or blood clot that develops in the area of the plaque. A cerebral embolism is a blockage by an embolus, or blood clot that develops in another area of the body and travels through the circulatory system, getting lodged in a blood vessel in the area of the brain.
A hemorrhagic stroke is caused by a blood vessel rupturing and reducing the blood flow to the brain. Bleeding inside the brain can be caused by physical trauma or weakened blood vessel ruptures. Hemorrhagic strokes are less common than ischemic strokes but they account for almost 40% of stroke-related deaths. Hemorrhagic strokes usually involve an intracerebral hemorrhage inside the brain or a subarachnoid hemorrhage in the area between the arachnoid mater and the pia mater, which is the layer just outside the brain.
Hemorrhagic strokes may involve arteriovenous malformations or aneurysms that can weaken the blood vessels. Factors that can increase the risk of a hemorrhagic stroke include:
- High blood pressure
- Overtreatment with blood thinners
- Head injury or trauma
Transient Ischemic Attack (TIA)
A transient ischemic attack, also known as a “mini stroke” or “warning stroke,” is caused by a temporary clot. The symptoms of a TIA are similar to those of a stroke but generally resolve within a short period of time. TIAs generally do not cause permanent damage but they could be a warning sign that the individual should see a doctor as they may be at risk of suffering a full-blown stroke.
When the blood supply to the spinal cord is blocked, it can cause cell damage, swelling, pressure in the spinal cord, cell death, and spinal cord damage. Most spinal strokes are ischemic, caused by blood clots or other embolus. Hemorrhagic spinal strokes are caused by bleeding in and around the spinal cord.
A spinal cord stroke is often misdiagnosed because it is less common than a stroke in the brain, and the signs and symptoms of this condition may appear similar to other conditions. Diagnosing a spinal cord injury often requires using a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scan to look for any conditions causing pressure on the spinal cord or blockage of the blood supply.
A spinal cord stroke is much less common than a stroke in the brain but can still cause significant damage. Depending on where on the spinal cord the damage or infarction occurs, the patient can suffer paralysis, paraplegia, or quadriplegia.
Stroke Risk and Prevention
Blood clots forming in and around the narrowed blood vessels or other parts of the body can be associated with a number of other lifestyles, health conditions, and diseases, including:
- Atrial fibrillation
- Physical inactivity
- Heavy alcohol use
- High cholesterol
- Cardiovascular disease
- Family history of heart disease
- Obstructive sleep apnea
Signs and Symptoms of a Stroke
Stroke is one of the conditions where early recognition and treatment can make one of the biggest differences in avoiding permanent injury and reducing the risk of death. The “Golden Hour,” refers to the first hour of a stroke when the patient has the greatest chance of survival and can avoid long-term brain damage. If a patient can get to the hospital and given treatment, including clot-busting drugs, within the first hour, they have the greatest chance for recovery.
There are public awareness campaigns to help people recognize the possible signs of a stroke and react appropriately. One of the acronyms to help people identify a possible stroke is “FAST,” for:
- Face drooping
- Arm weakness
- Speech difficulty
- Time to call 911
There are other signs and symptoms of a stroke, which can include:
- Sudden numbness or weakness, especially on one side of the body
- Sudden confusion, trouble speaking, or trouble understanding speech
- Dizziness, loss of balance, or difficulty walking
- Sudden severe headache
- Difficulty seeing in one or both eyes
Diagnosing and Misdiagnosing a Stroke
Before discussing how a stroke is diagnosed, it is important for people to understand that stroke is often misdiagnosed by doctors and healthcare professionals. Stroke is one of the “Big 3” conditions which are subject to diagnostic errors.
According to researchers at Johns Hopkins, three major disease categories that account for almost 75% of serious harms from diagnostic errors. These include:
- Vascular events
Vascular events accounted for almost 23% of diagnostic errors leading to serious injury or death. Vascular events involve conditions that affect the circulatory system, and stroke is the top condition in the vascular event category that accounts for misdiagnosis-related harm.
Diagnosis of a stroke generally involves an imaging scan or CT scan to determine what type of stroke the patient is having. A diagnostic scan can also rule out other possible conditions, including a brain tumor or infection. Other tests to evaluate the patient may include blood tests, taking the patient's history, MRI, carotid ultrasound, and echocardiogram.
Treatment and Post-Stroke Recovery
Treatment for a suspected stroke patient may depend on whether the individual is suffering an ischemic stroke or hemorrhagic stroke. Treatment may include medications to break up blood clots, emergency surgery to clear a blocked blood vessel, and angioplasty and stents.
Recovery depends on the extent of the damage caused by the stroke. After treatment, patients are closely monitored to evaluate the area of damage and address the future risk of stroke. Recovery will generally focus on rehabilitation and therapy to restore as much function and independence as possible. If a stroke caused injury to one side of the body, rehabilitation may focus on learning to adapt to using the dominant side of the body to account for the loss of function on the weaker side. Rehabilitation may include:
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- Nutritional counseling
Medical Malpractice Leading to a Stroke
There are a number of medical conditions and diseases that can increase the risk of a stroke. When a patient is at a high risk of stroke, they would expect their doctor to monitor their condition, warn them of the risks, and apply the appropriate treatment. However, some doctors may fail to apply the proper standard of care, putting their patients at risk of a stroke.
For example, if a patient came to the emergency room and complained of sudden headache, weakness in one side of the body, drooping of the face on one side, and difficulty speaking, this may appear to be some of the signs of a possible stroke. If the symptoms cleared up on their own within half an hour with no treatment, it may suggest a transient ischemic attack. The patient would hope for follow-up care to determine if they were at risk of a stroke. If the doctor sent them home with no diagnostic tests or follow-up care, that patient could later suffer a full-on stroke.
Medical Malpractice in Treating a Stroke
The Golden Hour highlights the importance of the timely treatment of a stroke. If a patient is exhibiting signs of a possible stroke, it is imperative that they receive immediate care to reduce the risk of permanent injury or death. If a doctor delays treatment, fails to follow proper stroke protocol, or misdiagnoses the stroke, it could prove fatal for the patient. Failure to provide the appropriate and timely care for a stroke patient could increase the risk of death or put the patient at greater risk of suffering a permanent disability.
Medical Malpractice Claims After a Stroke Injury
It may be difficult for the family of a stroke victim to know what to do after a loved one suffers such a serious injury. It can be worse when the family finds out that the patient did not receive the proper care which could have caused the injury. Unfortunately, the doctors or hospitals may not be willing to admit that they did something wrong.
If a loved one suffered a stroke or died after a stroke and you suspect the doctors and staff did not provide proper care, you may have a medical malpractice claim. A medical malpractice lawsuit can help you recover damages for your losses.
Damages in a Medical Malpractice Claim
Damages in a medical malpractice claim provide compensation for the losses caused by the medical error. This can help the patient pay for their medical bills, replace their loss of income, and provide for future care.
A stroke can be devastating for the patient and their family, and require around-the-clock care, medical care for years to come, and home and vehicle modifications. If the accident was caused by a medical mistake, the doctor should be responsible for paying for the costs of their actions.
If a stroke is fatal, the surviving family members may be left without the love and support of a father, mother, son, or daughter. The surviving family members may be able to file a wrongful death lawsuit to hold the negligent doctors accountable for their actions. A wrongful death lawsuit can help the family recover the costs of medical treatment, funeral expenses, and loss of support.
Stroke Medical Malpractice Attorneys
If a loved one suffered a stroke caused by medical negligence, talk to an experienced attorney about your options for recovery. Do not hesitate to contact Gilman & Bedigian today for a free consultation.