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Study: ER doctors miss stroke warning signs at alarming rates

A new study is shedding some light on what appears to be a life-threatening issue: emergency room doctors are missing the warning signs of strokes in a large number of patients. Interestingly, the study found that nontraditional stroke patients such as women and people under the age of 45 were more likely to experience a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis.

In the study, researchers analyzed emergency room and inpatient records collected from nine states during 2008 and 2009. They found that, of all of the hospital admissions for strokes, there were nearly 24,000 potentially missed stroke diagnoses during the previous 30 days. This included about 2,200 “probable missed strokes,” which are defined as emergency room visits in which the patient was discharged with dizziness or a benign headache. 

This means that approximately 13 percent of stroke victims had sought emergency room treatment for a stroke within 30 days of their eventual stroke diagnosis, but that their stroke had gone undiagnosed. As stated above, women and young people were more likely to experience a misdiagnosis, as were minority patients.

It is easy to see how this alarming rate of delayed diagnosis could aggravate stroke symptoms and effects. In fact, a different study states that diagnostic error is a cause of fatal strokes over 30 times more often than misdiagnosis of fatal myocardial infarctions. And at the current rate of approximately 1.3 million strokes or similar events occurring every year in the U.S., the scope of the potential harm from stroke misdiagnosis is enormous. Hopefully, this study is the impetus for new diagnostic tools and methods at hospitals in New York and around the country.

Source: MedPage Today, “Stroke Rounds: Early Signs of Stroke Missed in Many Cases,” Todd Neale, April 8, 2014

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