Pulmonary embolism (PE) can be life threatening and is often misdiagnosed. In fact, 1 in 3 patients presenting symptoms in an emergency room will be misdiagnosed. PE is a condition that occurs when there is a blockage in one of the pulmonary arteries in the lungs. A common cause for the blockage is a clot that travels up to the lung from another part of the body.
Unfortunately, the symptoms mimic other conditions that cause shortness of breath, chest pain and/or coughing. It becomes increasingly difficult for doctors to diagnose if the patient has an underlying heart or lung condition such as cardiovascular disease or asthma. However, PE is commonly misdiagnosed as pneumonia, heart attack and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) because those conditions also present similar symptoms. In some cases, it can be mistaken for a dissecting aortic aneurysm, hyperventilation or panic attacks.
How to avoid misdiagnosis:
1. If you are seeking care from a specialist, make sure you bring your medical records with you. While in some cases the physicians may share information, this shortens any time it may take. You will want to have all x-rays, MRIs and blood test results as well.
2. Keep a written log of all your symptoms, making sure to provide full descriptive details about how each one makes you feel and any questions you may have.
3. Make sure you know your medical history. If you don't already know it, ask your family what conditions they are prone to (e.g. heart disease, mental illness, cancer, etc.).
4. Bring your medications with you. This will allow your doctor to review the types of medications you are on all at one time and to determine if you are on the right ones and/or taking the correct dosage.
5. Don't name the condition you associate the symptoms with because, if you do, your doctor may as well. For example, if you say, "I have bronchitis," it may cause your physician to search only for those symptoms, which can rule out pneumonia, congestive heart failure, pulmonary hypertension and other conditions with similar symptoms.
6. Don't be afraid to ask your doctor what to expect. For example, you can ask your doctor how long it will take to recover from the diagnosed condition and what you should keep an eye on to determine if you need to return.
7. Ask a lot of questions and don't be afraid to ask questions that may second guess the doctor's diagnosis. You should also feel free to seek a second opinion.
While the above are preventative measures, it doesn't mean that a misdiagnosis won't still occur. If you have suffered life-threatening consequences or a loved one has died because the pulmonary embolism was missed, contact a dedicated and experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss what your options may be.