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Study finds misdiagnosis of strokes common in young patients

A stroke is one condition that requires rapid medical attention, regardless of the severity of the symptoms, and Massachusetts patients trust their doctors to recognize the warning signs. However, recent evidence suggests that physicians may misdiagnose strokes in an alarming number of cases, particularly among younger patients, minorities and women.

National Public Radio reports that a study completed at Johns Hopkins University indicated that doctors may misdiagnose strokes in 15,000 to 165,000 cases per year. This study was based on federal data for approximately 200,000 patients admitted to roughly 1,000 hospitals.

Among patients diagnosed with stroke, around 13 percent had visited their health care providers up to a month prior to hospitalization with symptoms such as dizziness and headaches, which may be atypical stroke symptoms or indicators of a minor attack that may precede a full-blown stroke. These patients received diagnoses for other, less harmful conditions if they were diagnosed at all.

Several factors may contribute to the prevalence of misdiagnosis of strokes. For instance, dizziness generally is considered a warning sign of stroke only when it occurs among elderly patients. Furthermore, there is a persistent belief that strokes only happen in the elderly, so doctors may not be looking for strokes in patients under the age of 45. Women also are less likely to display the usual, most easily recognized symptoms of stroke. Finally, barriers of language and culture may hinder the diagnosis of strokes among ethnic minorities.

The Mayo Clinic notes that a stroke occurs when the patient’s brain is deprived of oxygen following a reduction or interruption in blood flow. Thus, stroke symptoms should never be ignored because the potential for brain damage increases the longer the condition goes untreated. Symptoms of a stroke may include confusion, headache, or difficulty walking and speaking. Other common warning signs include difficulty seeing with one or both eyes, as well as numbness, weakness or paralysis in the arm, leg or face.


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