Nearly 13 percent of patients coming to an emergency room when having a stroke are misdiagnosed according to David E. Newman-Toker, M.D., Ph.D., an associate professor of neurology at Johns Hopkins who led the study that uncovered stroke misdiagnosis as a serious problem.
This is devastating to the patient and their family. My mother-in-law was a patient incorrectly diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. She later died from a preventable massive stroke.
After the diagnosis, my wife and I took Mom to a specialist. He tested her cognitive abilities and confirmed that she had Alzheimer’s disease.
Her care passed from her regular internist who had not seen her, to the neurologist and a gerontologist who treated her for Alzheimer’s disease.
However, she was suffering from a disease called Multi-infarct dementia, (MID). The cause is a series of small strokes called transient ischemic attacks and leads to mild dementia. Not all strokes leave a patient with slurred speech or paralysis. The strokes that cause MID can go unnoticed by loved ones. They can even occur while the patient is sleeping. Sometimes, the only symptoms are a slow decline in cognitive ability. Frequently, this decline leads to a mislabeling of the illness as Alzheimer’s disease.
A TIA is a warning to people that they are likely to have a stroke in the future. It is true that some TIA incidents go unnoticed. Nevertheless, following are signs that you may have had a mini-stroke:
- Sudden changes in your vision
- Abrupt tingling, numbness, weakness, or loss of movement in your face, arm, leg, or body
- Trouble speaking
- Sudden problems with balance or walking
- Abrupt onset of a headache that is different from any headache you had before this one
- Confusion and difficulty understanding simple statements
The above symptoms only last 10 to 20 minutes and then subside. They mimic the symptoms of a regular stroke, but vary depending on the part of the brain affected.
If you think you or a loved one are having a TIA call 911. Immediate medical attention can avert a major stroke.
According to the Mayo Clinic, there are medications for treatment and prevention of added TIA attacks as well as surgery for some patients.
Medical treatments include anti-platelet drugs that keep your platelets from sticking together and lets them flow freely through your circulatory system without forming clots. Other drugs are anticoagulants that also help prevent your blood from clotting. Patients who have narrowed neck arteries called the carotid artery undergo a procedure called carotid endarterectomy that clears plaque and fatty deposits from the artery so the blood freely flows to the brain. An alternative is angioplasty where a stent keeps the artery open.
Misdiagnosed patients like my mother-in-law do not receive these treatments and many die of a major stroke within a short time.
Mom died suddenly at home so she underwent an autopsy. The results were she had died of a stroke and had several small ones before the one that finally took her life. Her brain showed no signs of any other disease. Had she or we been educated about the dangers of TIA she would not have died.