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What Are the Most Common Medical Errors in the ICU?

Patients admitted to the intensive care unit generally have serious medical conditions that require careful monitoring. However, as San Diego medical malpractice attorneys, we know that medical errors are still a common occurrence.

In fact, studies suggest that as many as 40,500 adult patients may die with an ICU misdiagnoses annually. Of the ICU patients studied, more than one-fourth of those who died had at least one missed diagnosis.

As highlighted by AARP, below are the top five most common misdiagnoses in the ICU:

  • Heart attack: Doctors may incorrectly diagnose a heart attack as heartburn, a gallbladder infection or pulmonary embolism. Blood tests for heart muscle enzymes and a special diagnostic electrocardiogram (EKG) are needed to make an accurate diagnosis.
  • Pulmonary embolism: This condition can be misdiagnosed as an asthma attack, pneumonia, bronchitis or a heart attack. However, a CT scan of the lungs should reveal a blood clot.
  • Pneumonia: The symptoms of the lung infection can be confused with asthma or tuberculosis. A chest x-ray or CT scan can be used to confirm a pneumonia diagnosis.
  • Aspergillosis: This fungal infection can be overlooked and diagnosed as asthma, tuberculosis or acute respiratory distress. A chest x-ray or CT scan will reveal a fungal mass in the lungs, which can be confirmed by a sputum test.
  • Abdominal bleeding: Because blood pressure and heart rate fluctuations can signal a number of conditions, abdominal bleeding can often go undetected. However, there are a number of tests available. For example, blood tests can be used to scan for a low red blood cell count or anemia. A stool sample can also reveal the bleeding. Endoscopy, angiography and CT and nuclear medicine scans also be used to determine the source of the bleeding.

Overall, the five conditions detailed above make up more than one-third of all missed diagnoses in the ICU. Therefore, we caution patients and their loved ones to take an active role in their diagnosis and treatment.

If you or someone you love has suffered from medical error while being treated in an intensive care unit, don’t hesitate to contact a San Diego medical negligence lawyer at the Law Offices of Robert Vaage for a free consultation.