Is a Misdiagnosed Stroke Considered Medical Malpractice?

emergency care entrance at hospital
October 25, 2018
Legally Reviewed By Attorney Rand Spear, Esq.

Imagine that you go to the emergency room because you are experiencing dizziness and a severe headache. When you finally get to see a doctor, they either diagnose a migraine, an inner ear issue like vertigo, or nothing at all, and they send you home. A few days or a week later, you have a massive stroke that is debilitating for you and your family. Unfortunately, this scenario happens far too often. Doctors fail to diagnose or misdiagnose a stroke in the early stages when if treated correctly, they typically cause far less damage and long-term issues to a patient.

Who Is at Risk for a Stroke Misdiagnosis?

Research shows that tens of thousands of strokes and transient ischemic attacks (TIA) are missed or misdiagnosed every year. This misdiagnosis greatly increases patients’ chances of having future strokes, possibly very serious or life-threatening. Worse yet, some groups are more likely to be misdiagnosed when they are having a stroke than others.

  • Women are 33 percent more likely to have a stroke misdiagnosed than men.
  • The risk of stroke misdiagnosis for African Americans, Asians and Hispanics ranges from 18 to 30 percent.
  • Patients between the ages of 18 and 45 are seven times more likely to have a stroke misdiagnosed.
  • Patients seen in an emergency room in a non-teaching hospital are 45 percent more likely to have a stroke misdiagnosis.

How Is a Stroke Properly Diagnosed?

Properly diagnosing a stroke, and doing so quickly, is critical to a patient’s recovery. When a person experiences a stroke, the blood flow to the brain is disturbed causing brain cells to die. Quick diagnosis and treatment can assist in returning blood flow to the brain, improving a patient’s prognosis.

The symptoms of a stroke are typically sudden and may include:

  • blurry vision
  • trouble talking
  • numbness, weakness, or tingling on one side of the body
  • loss of movement on one side of the body
  • confusion
  • severe headache
  • dizziness
  • problems with balance

When a doctor suspects a patient is having a stroke, a CT scan of the brain is usually ordered and sometimes an MRI as well. These tests should allow the doctor to determine if the patient is, in fact, having a stroke, and what type of stroke it is.

How Is a Stroke Misdiagnosed?

There are two types of stroke, one caused by a blood clot (ischemic), and one caused by bleeding (hemorrhagic). Not only the timing of the diagnosis of a stroke is important, but also the timing of determining which type of stroke the patient is having. The treatment for one type may have a negative effect if the patient is suffering from the other type.

A doctor can misdiagnose a stroke by not determining which type of stroke it is, missing it completely, or diagnosing it as some other type of illness. The following are some of the common illnesses mistakenly diagnosed when a patient is actually suffering a stroke:


Because migraines are often severe headaches that occur on one side of the head, they can be mistaken for a stroke. Vision issues, another symptom of stroke, often occur with migraines further increasing the chances of misdiagnosis.

Ear Infection

An ear infection can cause balance issues, head pain, and dizziness – all symptoms of stroke as well.


Hypoglycemia occurs when a person’s blood sugar is very low, and it can mimic the symptoms of a stroke. A doctor should be able to rule it out fairly quickly with a blood glucose test, but it also can be misdiagnosed instead of a stroke.

Seizure Disorder

Doctors may misdiagnose a stroke as a seizure-related disorder, as post-seizure symptoms can be similar to a stroke.


Vertigo is caused by an imbalance within the inner ear and can cause extreme dizziness, confusion and even leaning to one side, all of which can be symptoms of stroke.


Someone having a stroke may appear to be intoxicated with drugs or alcohol. A person who is intoxicated may stumble, have trouble speaking, and not be able to walk straight, all of which can also be attributed to a person suffering a stroke.

Determining whether a person is having a stroke or suffering from another illness is usually easily distinguishable with a CT Scan and MRI. However, because those tests are sometimes inconclusive, another diagnosis may be made.

Is My Stroke Misdiagnosis Malpractice?

When doctors assess patients, they do what is called a differential diagnosis. This process involves considering all possible diagnoses for the symptoms that are present. Then, by doing thorough testing, the doctors can rule out medical conditions from the list of possibilities until they can make a definitive diagnosis.

When doctors diagnose patients experiencing a stroke with the wrong illness, they may be held liable for medical malpractice if they violated the accepted standard of care with the patients. This violation means that they acted in a manner differently than another reasonably skilled doctor would have in the same situation and that the patient suffered harm as a result.

Proving medical malpractice when a stroke is misdiagnosed is complicated and requires the expertise of a qualified malpractice attorney. If you suffered a stroke that was missed or misdiagnosed by a doctor, you might have a medical malpractice case. Contact medical malpractice attorney, Rand Spear, and his team for a free case review and help with how to proceed.

Media Contact:

Demand Philadelphia Medical Malpractice Lawyer Rand Spear

(T): 215-985-2424


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