Stroke misdiagnosis – why does it still happen?

Strokes are serious, life-threatening conditions that are relatively common in the UK – yet despite a lot of public awareness of strokes and their symptoms, they are still occasionally missed by medical professionals. In this blog, leading medical negligence solicitors at Browell Smith & Co examine strokes, their causes and what to do if you believe a stroke has been missed, or misdiagnosed, by medical staff.

In simple terms, a stroke happens when the flow of blood to the brain is cut off. It is a medical emergency and should be treated straight away – the faster treatment is given, the lower the chances of permanent damage.

According to the Stroke Association, strokes are the fourth-largest single causes of death in the UK, with 100,000 people suffering a stroke in the UK each year. In 2015, somebody in the UK died from a stroke every 13 minutes.

Even if you survive a stroke, it is likely to have a huge impact on your life: of the 1.2million stroke survivors in the UK, it is estimated that two thirds have been left with a disability.

A person’s risk of having a stroke can be increased by certain contributory factors including high blood pressure, diabetes, atrial fibrillation (abnormal/fast heart rate) and lifestyle, such as excessive alcohol intake, drugs, smoking and a lack of exercise.

One of the most common medical negligence issues that we encounter at Browell Smith & Co is the misdiagnosis of strokes: people who have reported to either A&E, or their GP, and been sent home again without a correct stroke diagnosis.

Why is early stroke treatment vital?

When patients suffer from strokes, early treatment is critical. The chances of survival and successful rehabilitation are increased the sooner medical attention is sought.

A high-profile advertising campaign helped to raise general public awareness of the symptoms of strokes, in order to help ensure as few people as possible suffered unnecessary waits for treatment.

Because this campaign was so well-known, many people therefore find it surprising that strokes are ever missed by medical staff – however, it is sadly and tragically common. At Browell Smith & Co our medical negligence specialists have worked with scores of victims of missed or misdiagnosed strokes.

What are the symptoms of a stroke?

As per the above video and public awareness campaign, remembering the acronym FAST (Face, Arms, Speech, Time) can help to spot and address the early signs of a stroke.

Face – the face may have dropped on one side, or the person may not be able to smile.

Arms – weakness or numbness in one or both arms means they may not be able to lift their arms above their head and keep them there.

Speech – is their speech slurred or garbled?

Time – it’s time to dial 999 immediately if any of the above symptoms are spotted. Report the emergency as a suspected stroke.

So why are strokes still missed?

Strokes can be difficult to spot because of the wide range of symptoms and their varying severity. Some patients might simply have headaches, feelings of dizziness or a loss of some cognitive function.

A report in America showed that in 13 per cent of stroke cases, the patient had reported to an emergency room in the prior 30 days without having their stroke diagnosed. Of those, one in 10 were discharged with headache or dizziness.

However, trained medical professional should understand the signs and be able to make diagnoses as quickly as possible.

There are frequent tragic news stories involving people whose stroke symptoms have been missed. This woman attended her GP with headaches, saying she kept dropping things, and was sent home without being referred to hospital. Within 24 hours, she had tragically died.

There have also been worrying recent reports that strokes in children are being missed, because they are not expected to suffer from them.

When can you make a legal claim for a misdiagnosed stroke?

If your health has been impacted as a result of a medical mistake, then it may be worth considering legal action. In the cases of missed strokes, the effects are sometimes devastating, leaving people disabled and unable to work, possibly dependent on care from a professional or a family member.

There are a lot of support services available for stroke victims, but these may not replace lost household income.

If you or a family member has had a stroke that was either missed or misdiagnosed, and the delay led to more damage being done, then you are likely to have a solid grounds for legal action. If you’re not sure, feel free to contact us and we can talk through whether we believe you have a case.


Browell Smith & Co has a long-standing reputation for securing justice for victims of medical negligence. You can read more about our range of medical negligence misdiagnosis services here.

Contact our expert team today to arrange an appointment in Newcastle, Cramlington, Ashington and Sunderland, or alternatively by calling 0800 107 3000, to discuss your particular requirements.

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