Medical malpractice may occur when physicians and other medical professionals fail to diagnose a medical condition or illness. This diagnostic lapse can deprive a patient of needed medical treatments or surgery. Any delay in care can worsen the condition and lead to premature death.
For more than 30 years, Powers & Santola, LLP., has been helping patients and their families in Albany, Syracuse and surrounding communities in upstate New York obtain justice for injuries caused by a failure to diagnose a medical condition, including the conditions listed below.
A pulmonary embolism (PE) is the sudden blockage of a major blood vessel in the lung, usually caused by a blood clot. A PE is treatable with anti-coagulant medications (blood thinners) if it is quickly diagnosed and treated. However, it can be fatal if allowed to go untreated. Common symptoms include sudden shortness of breath, sharp chest pains that worsen by coughing or breathing deeply, or a cough that produces pink, foamy mucous.
Generalized symptoms of pulmonary embolism include faintness/lightheadedness, profuse sweating, feelings of anxiety, a fast heart rate, or heart palpitations. PE is often not diagnosed because symptoms are similar to other conditions, such as a heart attack, anxiety attack or pneumonia.
The risk of PE is increased by:
- Long periods of inactivity, such as prolonged bed rest following surgery, or sitting in a plane or car for hours
- Age (especially older than 70)
- Systemic hypertension
- Taking oral contraceptives for birth control
- Congenital or acquired thrombophilia
- Diseases such as cancer, heart disease, stroke or severe infection
- Recent surgery to legs, hips or brain
PE is usually caused by a blood clot in the leg that breaks loose and travels to the lung. Blood clots near the surface of the skin are usually not life threatening. However, deep vein thrombosis can lead to PE.
Common tests to rule out PE include blood tests, an ultrasound spiral CT scan, electrocardiogram, or an MRI. Malpractice can occur if a medical provider fails to properly monitor a patient in an emergency room, fails to perform tests to rule out a blood clot, fails to recognize PE symptoms, or misdiagnoses the condition.
Compartment syndrome results from excessive pressure building up in an enclosed space in the body, such as from bleeding or swelling after an injury. The high pressure impedes blood flow to and from the affected tissues. Compartment syndrome can cause severe, permanent damage to muscle groups or internal organs, with loss of body function or even death.
Acute compartment syndrome is the most common type of compartment syndrome, and it is frequently caused by a broken leg or arm. Acute compartment syndrome usually develops rapidly over hours or within days as a result of the fracture due to blood pressure or fluid building up. It may occur later as a result of surgery or casting of the fracture. Other causes include crush injuries, burns, overly tight bandaging, prolonged compression of a limb during unconsciousness, or a blood clot in an arm or leg.
A doctor may suspect compartment syndrome based on the injury in question, a patient’s symptoms, and a physical exam. The only definitive test for compartment syndrome is to directly measure the pressure in the affected area.
The failure to diagnose cancer can have devastating consequences, all the more so if a timely diagnosis could have led to early treatment intervention. We have a page of content that lists the common causes of delayed cancer diagnosis. We also have content devoted to the types of cancer where misdiagnosis is common, including delayed diagnosis of breast cancer, delayed diagnosis of lung cancer, delayed diagnosis of prostate cancer, delayed diagnosis of bladder cancer and delayed diagnosis of colorectal cancer.
An aortic aneurysm is a bulge in a section of the aorta, which is the body’s main artery. An aneurysm can form in any part of the aorta, but it most frequently occurs in the midsection (abdominal aortic aneurysm) or the upper body (thoracic aortic aneurysm). High blood pressure or hardening of the arteries can cause the aorta to lose its elasticity and form a bulge. While most aortic aneurysms do not cause symptoms, some symptoms that do occur include pain in the stomach, chest or back that is either sporadic or constant. A ruptured bulge causes severe pain and internal bleeding, and can quickly lead to death. Blood clots can form near the aneurysm. If a blood clot breaks free it can flow to the brain and cause a stroke.
Risk factors for an abdominal aortic aneurysm include men over 60 with a family history of the condition, and men 65 or older who have smoked. Screening tests such as an ultrasound, a CT scan or MRI are recommended for men in these categories. Screening tests for thoracic aneurysm are recommended for anyone who has a close relative who has had thoracic aortic aneurysm.
A larger aneurysm needs surgery to repair the damaged part of the blood vessel with a stent or with a graft during surgery. Smaller aneurysms can be treated with medications for high blood pressure. Routine ultrasound tests are recommended to monitor the size of the aneurysm.
A heart attack usually results from a coronary heart disease that clogs arteries with calcified plaques. Often a heart attack results when a blood clot forms near the clogged area of an artery, severely blocking blood flow to and from the heart. Major risk factors include high blood pressure, high cholesterol, obesity, smoking and lack of exercise. High levels of stress can also increase the risk of a heart attack.
Doctors can diagnose heart failure by taking a medical history and conducting a physical exam. They also can rely on various tests and scans to pinpoint blockages in arteries and any tissue damage. Images of the heart and coronary arteries supplied by angiograms and radioisotope scans locate specific areas of damage and blockage. An electrocardiogram is used to assess how a heart is functioning.
Common symptoms of a heart attack are discomfort in the chest, abdominal area, neck, back, arm, wrist or jaw with exertion or at rest. The pain or discomfort may begin in the central or left area of the chest and radiate to the arm, jaw, back or shoulder. However, some heart attack patients do not have any chest pain, which increases the risk of a misdiagnosis. The pain or discomfort associated with a heart attack is often not particularly intense or focused in one specific area of the body. Shortness of breath, dizziness, sweating, nausea and vomiting can accompany the other symptoms.
A doctor can misdiagnose a heart attack as heartburn, indigestion or some other ailment, especially if the pain is in the abdominal area and not the chest. The failure to diagnose a heart attack can be fatal. A physician should always assess a patient’s medical history, focusing on risk factors for heart disease and the main complaints of the patient. Medical providers need to investigate all symptoms, especially complaints of chest pain. A heart attack should be ruled out before a patient is sent home.
The appendix is an approximately 3 1/2 –inch tubular tissue that extends from the large intestine. Appendicitis is an inflammation of the appendix, and is a medical emergency that requires prompt surgical removal. If untreated, the inflamed appendix can burst and infect the abdominal cavity, leading to a serious inflammation of the abdominal cavity (peritonitis) that can be fatal unless treated quickly with antibiotics.
Common symptoms include: pain near the naval or upper abdomen that sharpens as it moves to the lower right abdomen; loss of appetite; nausea; vomiting; abdominal swelling; fever; severe cramps; constipation; or diarrhea.
Appendicitis can be misdiagnosed because its symptoms can mirror other ailments, such as a bladder or urinary tract infection, Crohn’s disease, gastritis, intestinal infection, or gallbladder problems. Medical providers can perform an abdominal exam to assess if the abdomen is inflamed. Other tests include a rectal exam; a urine test to rule out a urinary tract infection; a blood exam to determine if your body is fighting an infection; CT Scan; and/or an ultrasound.
If a physician even just suspects appendicitis, surgery to remove the appendix is the standard course of treatment.
Amputation is the surgical removal of a limb or body part usually performed to remove diseased tissue or relieve pain. Diseases and conditions that may lead to amputation are circulatory problems caused by diabetes, hardening of the arteries, arterial embolism, or frostbite. Infection is of special concern to amputees, as the resulting wound is susceptible to infection from bacteria, fungi or viruses present in a medical care facility. If the stump becomes infected, it is necessary to remove the prosthesis and sometimes to amputate a second time at a higher level. The infection itself may lead to serious medical conditions, such as sepsis, septic shock or a staph infection.
Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that primarily affects the liver. It is caused by the hepatitis C virus, and is spread primarily by blood-to-blood contact from intravenous drug use, poorly sterilized medical equipment, organ transplants, or transfusions. It is often asymptomatic, and over time can lead to permanent liver damage, as well as cirrhosis, liver cancer and liver failure. Symptoms that do develop include: fatigue; joint pain; itchy skin; sore muscles; or dark urine. Often, hepatitis C is detected as the result of a blood test as part of a normal check up. A liver biopsy can determine if the virus has caused scarring of the liver. Treating hepatitis C can include taking a variety of medications to combat the virus.
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