Most people understand that a stroke is a serious, potentially life-threatening condition that could lead to serious injuries. There are different types of strokes and strokes of varied severities so it is possible that some could be missed or misdiagnosed despite patients being symptomatic.
There are some conditions that mimic strokes, which is why a stroke may go undiagnosed in some people. For example, hypoglycemia linked to diabetes may mimic a stroke, but ingesting sugar and raising the body’s glucose levels resolves the symptoms. Seizures might mimic stokes, and even migraines may appear similarly to strokes without the same risks as true strokes would have.
How should emergency medical providers determine if a stroke has occurred?
It is important for emergency medical care providers to determine the exact cause of stroke-related symptoms. Even if a patient has a history of seizures, migraines, hypoglycemia or other conditions that mimic strokes, steps need to be taken to rule out a stroke.
Strokes are the third-leading cause of death in the United States and the top cause of disability, so quick and appropriate treatment is necessary. Strokes generally present with a classic pattern of symptoms including:
- Paralysis of a part of the face, arm, leg, particularly when this involves one side of the body
- A metallic taste in the mouth
- Trouble swallowing
- Headache with vomiting
- Trouble speaking
Unfortunately, these symptoms can overlap with other conditions. To diagnose a stroke, the medical provider should start with a physical examination. They should check the patient’s blood pressure, medical history and blood vessels at the back of the eyes.
It is a good idea to order imaging tests such as magnetic resonance images or CT scans to determine if there is damage to the brain or if another medical condition has occurred. A cerebral angiogram will give a detailed view of the brain, and an echocardiogram will look for sources of clots that may have traveled to the brain.
Failing to order the correct tests may lead to misdiagnosis. If a patient leaves without treatment, the stroke and symptoms may worsen and lead to brain death in some cases. If that happens, the patient or their family may be able to pursue a malpractice claim.