Emergency departments play a crucial role in providing immediate medical care and saving lives; however, these environments’ complexity and time-sensitive nature can sometimes lead to malpractice. A recent study conducted by the U.S. government highlights the alarming frequency of misdiagnosed conditions in emergency rooms, which can result in preventable harm, permanent disability, or even death. Understanding the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions in ERs is essential to raise awareness, improve diagnostic accuracy, and ultimately enhance patient outcomes.
Each year, a significant number of individuals lose their lives due to incorrect diagnoses in hospital emergency departments, as revealed by a recent study conducted by the U.S. government. The research, published on Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality, discovered the following:
- Out of 130 million annual ER visits, 7.4 million patients are incorrectly diagnosed, meaning approximately 1 in 18 individuals receive an erroneous diagnosis.
- 2.6 million patients experience preventable harm.
- 370,000 patients suffer permanent disability or death due to misdiagnosis.
According to USAToday.com, the five conditions most commonly misdiagnosed in emergency departments include the following:
A stroke is a condition that impacts the arteries supplying blood to and within the brain. Stroke.org states that it is the fifth leading cause of fatalities and is a primary cause of disability in the United States. A stroke takes place when a blood vessel transporting oxygen and nutrients to the brain becomes obstructed by a clot or ruptures.
A stroke affects someone in the U.S. every 40 seconds, with women at a higher risk than men.
Heart attacks, otherwise known as myocardial infarctions, occur when one or more sections of the heart muscle are deprived of sufficient oxygen. Johns Hopkins Medicine states that this is due to an obstruction in the blood flow to the heart muscle.
Heart muscle cells begin to suffer damage and die when the blood and oxygen supply is interrupted. Within 30 minutes of blockage, irreversible damage begins. Consequently, the affected heart muscle loses its ability to function properly.
Aortic aneurysm or dissection
An aortic aneurysm is a bulging in the wall of the aorta, the primary blood vessel responsible for pumping blood from the heart to the rest of the body, as explained by Patrice Desvigne-Nickens with the National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute, to USA TODAY.
Aortic aneurysms can form anywhere along the aorta.
Blood pressure against the weakened walls of the aorta can lead to an aneurysm when the walls are compromised.
Spinal cord compression or injury
This type of injury encompasses damage to any part of the spinal cord or nerves situated at the end of the spinal canal (cauda equina). The Mayo Clinic states that this frequently results in permanent alterations in strength, sensation, and other bodily functions below the injury site.
Paralysis due to a spinal cord injury can manifest as:
- Tetraplegia: Also called quadriplegia, it impacts the arms, hands, trunk, legs, and pelvic organs as a result of the spinal cord injury.
- Paraplegia: This form of paralysis affects all or a portion of the trunk, legs, and pelvic organs.
Venous thromboembolism refers to blood clots that form deep within the veins. It is a frequently overlooked yet severe and preventable medical issue that can lead to disability and death.
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, small clots can be treated, and individuals can recover from the condition, but some damage to the lungs may remain. If the clot is large, it can block blood from reaching the lungs, which is fatal.
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