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Misdiagnosis of Critical Conditions

Misdiagnosis of Critical Conditions

Delay or lack of care can be fatal

The human body presents itself and its ailments in a variety of ways, and many symptoms are consistent with more than one disease, leading to a misdiagnosed condition. Misdiagnosis can significantly affect the life and well-being of a patient. When a condition is wrongfully identified, it can result in the wrong treatment, and even a wrongful death.

A simple chest pain could mean congestion, or it could be a symptom of a heart attack. Fatigue and a high heart rate could be related to anxiety or signal a disorder of the autonomic nervous system.

At Jonathan C. Reiter Law Firm PLLC, we know misdiagnosis can result in rounds of expensive treatment, emotional distress, and possibly the development of another medical issue that wasn’t there in the first place. That’s why we’ve dedicated ourselves to representing victims of misdiagnosis and malpractice, helping them and their loved ones move forward from the catastrophic consequences of a misdiagnosed condition.

What are some common misdiagnoses?

When common symptoms present themselves, it’s possible to interpret them in a multitude of ways. In addition, many people express symptoms of certain conditions in different ways-this is especially true for women, as their symptoms of can be different from a man’s. Acute cardiovascular disease is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed medical issues, along with certain forms of cancer and other potentially fatal conditions, including the examples listed below.

No medical professional can be expected to diagnose with perfect accuracy, but doctors do have an obligation to follow standards of care when diagnosing patients. Doctors have an obligation to form a “differential diagnosis”, which is a list of possible conditions that could be causing the patient’s symptoms, and then rule in or rule out each suspect with further tests. Doctors need to rule out, or exclude the most potentially serious or deadly conditions first, even if those conditions are not the most probable suspects on the list. If a doctor mistakenly assumes that a patient’s symptoms are due to a common, non-emergency condition instead of a potentially fatal but less common condition, the patient may die in a short period of time. A physician who misinterprets results, fails to order medically indicated tests, or fails to appropriately refer a patient to a specialist for further evaluation may be held responsible for malpractice.

Pulmonary Embolism (PE)

A clot in the lungs can be deadly if misdiagnosed and left untreated. The clot often forms deep in the veins of the legs known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) and then travels to the lungs. Patients who are confined to bed after surgical procedures or passengers on long airplane flights are at particular risk for this condition. Lightheadedness, tachycardia, chest pain and shortness of breath often bring people into the emergency department, and their symptoms are sometimes misattributed to another cause.

In fact, a study showed that 1 in 3 patients with PE were misdiagnosed at first and sent home. An array of tests needs to be performed in order to properly diagnose a pulmonary embolism, and they must be done quickly. These potentially include x-rays, lung scans, CT scans, ultrasounds and pulmonary angiogram in order to find the clot and detect others. PE is often misdiagnosed as pneumonia, pleuritic pain, or a myocardial infarction instead of what it truly is: a deadly blood clot in the lungs that needs immediate treatment.

Aortic Dissection

This serious condition takes place within the inner layer of the aorta, which is a large blood vessel stemming out from the heart. When the inner layer tears, blood fills the space and forces the innermost and middle layers of aortic tissue apart. Fatalities often occur when the dissection cuts off blood to the coronary arteries, or the outermost layer breaks under extreme pressure.

This is not a common condition, usually affecting older men. Its symptoms can be mistaken for other conditions, which could cause a misdiagnosis, or fatal delay in diagnosis. Symptoms include shortness of breath, syncope (fainting), severe chest and back pain that feels like a ripping sensation, pulse abnormalities and one-side body paralysis. Those at high risk include patients with a history of high blood pressure, which puts strain on the aortic walls. If not diagnosed and treated properly, death could occur in a matter of minutes or hours.


The leading cause of adult disability, a stroke can result in paralysis, loss of speech and loss of the ability to function independently. It also is a leading cause of death in the United States, which means that failure to diagnose a stroke properly could end a patient’s life. Symptoms commonly include:

  • Intense headache
  • Confusion
  • Loss of vision
  • Weakness in the limbs
  • Heaviness or paralysis on one side of the body
  • Difficulty processing and forming speech

If not diagnosed properly because the symptoms are confused with another condition, the patient could severely suffer. Brain damage, loss of motor skills and memory, inability to speak, and partial paralysis could all follow. Before a stroke takes place, an event called a Transient Ischemic Attack may occur; this is usually a warning sign, and one providers shouldn’t dismiss simply because they go away. Failure to assess the risk of a stroke puts the patient at serious risk of brain cell death and eventual permanent brain injury. Prompt treatment of a stroke with the clot busting drug tPA or interventional procedures to open clogged arteries in the brain can reverse or greatly ameliorate the effects of a stroke.

Contact us

If you or someone you know has been misdiagnosed or suffered a delay in their care, you need an experienced malpractice lawyer on your side every step of the way. Misdiagnosis, and delayed diagnosis can kill. Damage and death can be prevented through the proper medical care and attention that we expect. When doctors fail to provide that care, they need to be held accountable. Contact us for a free consultation about your potential case today.

Jonathan C. Reiter NYC Injury Lawyer

New York City Personal Injury Lawyer / Aviation Accident Attorney