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Strokes and Medical Negligence

Strokes and Medical Negligence

If you or your family member has come to harm because medical professionals failed to diagnose and treat a stroke, you may be able to take legal action in the form of a medical negligence claim.

To talk to a solicitor about claiming compensation for a stroke, please get in touch with us today.

Stroke mortality rate

In 2010, was the fourth largest cause of death in the UK after cancer, heart disease and respiratory disease. In 2010, stroke caused just under 50,000 deaths in the UK. This accounts for approximately 7% of all deaths in men and 10% of all deaths in women.

Stroke disability

Stroke is a biggest cause of complex disability in adults. Those who survive a stroke often have permanent brain damage that affects movement, speech and basic functions such as swallowing.

Of those who survive a stroke, around:

  • 43% will be independent
  • 22% will have a mild disability
  • 14% will have a moderate disability
  • 10% will have a severe disability
  • 12% will have a very severe disability

A stroke can therefore have life-changing implications and a patient may need care on an ongoing basis.

Types of stroke

Strokes can be classified into two major categories: ischaemia and haemorrhagic. Around 85% of strokes are ischaemic and 15% are haemorrhagic.

Ischaemic strokes are caused by an interruption of the blood supply. Haemorrhagic strokes result from a rupture of a blood vessel inside the brain. Haemorrhagic strokes can occur in different intracranial compartments, with around 5% arising in the subarachnoid compartment and 10% arising in the intracerebral compartment.

What causes a stroke?

There are various factors that increase the risk of a stroke. Some risk factors cannot be controlled, including: old age, family history of strokes, race (strokes are more prevalent in people with a south Asian, African or Caribbean heritage) and gender (strokes are more prevalent in women).

However, some risk factors relate to the lifestyle of a patient. These include:

  • High blood pressure
  • Smoking cigarettes
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • Artery disease such as carotid arteries
  • Heart disease such as atrial fibrillation
  • High blood cholesterol
  • Poor diet
  • Physical inactivity or obesity

Of these, high blood pressure is the biggest risk factor.

Failure to diagnose a stroke

A stroke must be diagnosed and treated immediately if a patient is to have a chance of survival. Unfortunately strokes are often subject to a delayed diagnosis. This is commonly due to one of three reasons:

1. The patient is below the age of 45

2. It is a posterior circulation stroke

3. There was a failure to recognise a transient ischaemic attack (TIA)

Strokes and young people

Strokes are much more common amongst the elderly. Nevertheless, young people do suffer strokes and transient ischaemic attacks (mini-strokes or TIAs). Around 25% of strokes happen in patient below the age of 65, and 5% below the age of 45.

Normally someone who suffers a stroke under the age of 45 was previously in good health. The reasons a stroke occur in this age bracket is therefore more complex and diverse. It is much less likely to be related to clogged arteries (known medically as 'atherosclerosis'), as it is in the elderly.

Young people who experience a stroke often display the typical symptoms of a stroke. Even so, a diagnosis is regularly delayed or missed because the age of the patient throws medical practitioners off course.

Posterior circulation strokes

The posterior circulation supplies blood to just one side of the brain. A posterior circulation has different symptoms to that of an anterior circulation stroke, which are more widely known.

A posterior circulation stroke will result in symptoms such as:

  • Visual field defect
  • Imbalance and unsteadiness
  • Vertigo, possibly with nausea and vomiting
  • Double vision
  • Difficulty speaking
  • Weakness and sensory loss

These symptoms are not the same as those associated with an anterior circulation stroke, which have been the focus of a public campaign to increase stroke awareness. This campaign used the acronym 'FAST' to alert people to the presence of a stroke:

  • Face: droopy face
  • Arms: inability to raise arms
  • Speech: difficulty speaking with slurred speech
  • Time: dial 999 immediately

The 'FAST' symptoms are characteristic of an anterior circulation stroke. Consequently there is less awareness regarding posterior circulation strokes, the symptoms of which may be mistaken for another condition.

Transient ischaemic attacks (TIAs)

A TIA is often referred to as a mini-stroke. Around 46,000 people in the UK will experience their first TIA each year. A TIA is known precursor to a full stroke, and 20 to 30% of stroke patients will have had a preceding TIA. About 10% of people who have a mini-stroke will go on to have a full stroke within one week.

Recognising and treating a TIA is very important as this will help to prevent a full stroke occurring. Studies predict that diagnosing and acting upon a TIA will reduce the risk of a stroke by 80%. Evidently this is a large margin and will greatly minimise the possibility of death and disability.

A patient who has had a TIA should be urgently started on medication to reduce the risk of stroke. The type of medication will depend upon the underlying cause of the mini-stroke, but may involve anti-coagulant drugs and blood pressure medication.

Substandard medical management of stroke

If medical practitioners do not provide a stroke patient with an acceptable standard of care, the consequences could be severe. Indeed, a patient may not survive, or may be left with a disability that greatly reduces their quality of life.

If you believe that you or your loved one has suffered because of medical error, you must talk to a lawyer about the options available. A medical negligence solicitor will be able to suggest whether or not you experienced a substandard level of medical care, and whether this affected the eventual outcome. If so, you will be legally entitled to pursue a claim against the doctor or hospital at fault.

We specialise in clinical negligence law and can handle the claims process on your behalf, fighting to get the compensation you deserve.

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