Aortic Aneurysm / Dissection Misdiagnosis: Impacts and Implications

Diagnostic errors in the emergency rooms are, unfortunately, more common than you can imagine. In fact, a recent study on the topic was published on the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services website, which stated that the United States faced 7.4 million misdiagnosis cases in the emergency room on a yearly basis. Furthermore, millions of those patients suffered adverse impacts as a result of their misdiagnosis.

The study listed the top 5 conditions that account for serious misdiagnosis-related harms, among which aortic aneurysm and aortic dissection was the third most common.

What is Aortic Aneurysm / Aortic Dissection?

An aortic aneurysm is a balloon-like bulge that develops in the aorta, which is the main artery that carries oxygen-rich blood from the heart to the rest of the body.

As the largest blood vessel in the body, the aorta has thick walls to help perform its job. However, sometimes, these walls can become weak due to trauma, genetic conditions, or some medical issues, and cause a bulge, which we refer to as an aortic aneurysm.

An aortic aneurysm can either dissect or rupture, and an aortic dissection happens when the layers of the aorta’s walls split or separate (“dissect”) due to excessive force of the pumping blood, thereby causing a leak between the layers. This slows down or completely stops blood flow to other parts of the body, or can cause the aorta to rupture fully.

While an aortic aneurysm can happen anywhere in the aorta, the condition actually increases the chances of aortic dissection, which is considered a life-threatening condition, one that requires immediate medical treatment.

Types of Aortic Aneurysm

An aortic aneurysm typically occurs in two locations – in the chest and in the abdomen. The former is called a thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA) and the latter is called an abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA).

  • Thoracic aortic aneurysm (TAA) is the less common type of the two and occurs in the chest region of the aorta. Some of the common causesof this condition include:
    • Infection
    • High blood pressure
    • High cholesterol
    • A traumatic injury
    • Plaque buildup in the arteries, also called atherosclerosis
  • Abdominal aortic aneurysm (AAA) is the most common type and occurs in the abdominal region of the aorta. Some of the common causesof this condition include:
    • High blood pressure
    • High blood cholesterol
    • Family history of AAA
    • Smoking habit (75% of all AAAare caused by a history of smoking)
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    • Cardiovascular disease or history of stroke

Causes of Aortic Dissection

The following factors can increase the risk of developing aortic dissection:

  • Hypertension
  • Aortic aneurysm
  • Buildup of plaque in the arteries (atherosclerosis)
  • Family history of aortic dissection
  • Hereditary aortic conditions
  • Traumatic chest injury
  • Pregnant women with high blood pressure during delivery
  • Difficult powerlifting
  • People aged between 50 and 65 years
  • Congenital heart conditions
  • Genetically linked connective tissue disorders

Why are Aortic Aneurysms Commonly Misdiagnosed?

Aortic Aneurysms can be misdiagnosed for various reasons.  Among the most common are when the doctor does not consider all the patients presenting symptoms and order the proper diagnostic tests.  Aortic Aneurysms are typically diagnosed with tests such ultrasounds, X-rays, echocardiograms, or CT scans. Misdiagnosis of an aortic aneurysm typically leads to a delay in treatment, which in turn leads to an aortic dissection.

Some of the most common misdiagnoses of the condition include gastrointestinal hemorrhage, renal colic, and diverticulitis. Patients who were misdiagnosed with these conditions had back pain, shock, and abdominal pain as their common initial physical findings.

In many cases, even aortic dissections (abdominal aortic dissection, in particular) have been misdiagnosed. According to an article published in the Journal of Vascular Surgery, misdiagnosis happens to be common in patients with ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysms (rAAA), and the most common differential diagnoses were myocardial infarction and ureteric colic.

Since these conditions are common in older men, and their symptoms can mimic those of other diseases, diagnosis is many times delayed too.

Consequences of Aortic Aneurysm / Dissection Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis of aortic aneurysm / dissection can lead to stroke, damage to internal organs, aortic valve damage, cardiac tamponade – fluid buildup in the sac around the heart, and even death.

When an aortic aneurysm / dissection is diagnosed early and treated promptly, the risks of the above-mentioned complications can be reduced, and the chance of survival can be improved.

Aortic Aneurysm / Dissection Specialists

Aortic aneurysm repair can be performed by cardiac surgeons, thoracic surgeons, interventional cardiologists, and vascular and interventional radiologists.

Aortic Aneurysm / Dissection Misdiagnosis Liability

Medical malpractice litigation occurs when there is a discrepancy between the acceptable level of medical care and when the care the patient receives falls below that level. As result of the substandard level of care the patient receives, the patient suffers damages.  When aortic aneurysm and dissection are misdiagnosed, the results are often fatal.

If you suspect that the doctors or other medical professionals failed to timely diagnose, order required diagnostic tests, consult with a proper expert, and/or interpret test results of your aortic aneurysm / dissection, you have a medical malpractice claim. This can be done by proving that the concerned health care providers did not act according to the accepted professional medical standards pertinent to the diagnosis. A skilled and experienced medical malpractice lawyer can assess the facts of your case, review the appropriate medical records, and help you gather all the important evidence to make your case.

If you or a loved one are a victim of medical malpractice call Keller Swan today for a free case evaluation.  In your time of hardship and grief, we can guide you through the difficult legal process.