An aortic aneurysm is a condition that can be the subject of a medical malpractice claim due to misdiagnosis or diagnostic errors. Aortic aneurysms are life-threatening, and doctors and medical professionals need to identify aortic aneurysms as soon as possible and begin medical treatment immediately any time one is suspected. If an aortic aneurysm ruptures, it will likely be deadly.
Understanding Aortic Aneurysm
The aorta is the largest artery in the human body. This artery carries blood from the heart to all the other parts of the body and runs from the heart to the abdomen. An aortic aneurysm occurs when the force of the blood that pumps throughout the body is weakened and eventually splits the artery wall. When this occurs, blood can leak in between the separate and various layers of the artery wall. This leakage will cause ballooning of the wall of the artery. In some cases, the aneurysm will simply grow slowly and never cause any harm. However, in other cases, the aneurysm will grow rapidly and eventually either dissect or rupture. When a rupture occurs, the patient can experience internal bleeding causing shock or death. Fortunately a life-threatening aneurysm typically produces pain before it ruptures, giving patients a window of time in which to have life-saving treatment.
If a patient is not already in a hospital setting when an aneurysm ruptures, there is only a 30% chance of survival. Additionally, if the aortic aneurysm happens near the heart or heart valves, it can cause congestive heart failure or cause blood clots to form around the walls of the aortic artery. These blood clots can be life-threatening, as they may dislodge and then travel to the heart or lungs and cut off blood supply, resulting in a stroke of pulmonary embolism (blood clot in the lungs).
The decision on how to best treat an aortic aneurysm depends on its size and rate of its growth, location and your overall health. Some patients will have a open surgery with a large incision, while others will have a small-incision procedure called an endovascular repair. If the aneurism is below a certain size doctors will not do surgery, and will encourage “watchful waiting,” where the patient is alerted to return immediately if symptoms increase, and to have regular scans and blood pressure tests. The “watchful waiting” is often accompanied by advice to restrict heavy activities.
Symptoms of Aortic Aneurysm
Doctors and medical professionals should be vigilant in their attempts to identify and diagnose aortic aneurysms. Here are the typical symptoms:
- Pain in the abdomen, back or chest without any other known cause
- Shortness of breath or hoarseness
- Chest pain that goes through to the back
- If the aortic aneurysm is near the abdomen, a pulsing feeling in the abdomen
- Sudden or severe pain in the back, abdomen or chest
- Fast heartbeat, feeling confused or light-headedness which points to potential shock
If you are experiencing any of these symptoms, you should seek medical treatment immediately. Oftentimes, a medical professional will then order a CT scan or an echocardiogram to determine if there is an aortic aneurysm.
Facts Regarding Aortic Aneurysms
The following are some facts and statistics related to aortic aneurysms.
- 45,000 deaths per year in the United States are related to aortic aneurysms.
- Approximately one-third of all aortic aneurysms that are near the abdomen are discovered through a routine physical examination, and are the 14th leading cause of death in the United States.
- Family history plays a significant role, as approximately one-fifth of all patients suffering from an aortic aneurysm had a family member who also suffered from one.
- Only half of the patients that arrive at a hospital with a ruptured abdominal aortic aneurysm will survive, and out of those patients, only half will survive the surgery and repair to their aortic artery.
- Risk factors for aortic aneurysms include smoking, high blood pressure, being a male, high cholesterol, plaque buildup in the artery, family history of aortic aneurysms, being over 60 years of age, chest trauma or surgery in the chest, or suffering from a genetic disorder such as Marfan syndrome or Ehlers-Danlos syndrome.
Failure to Diagnose an Aortic Aneurysm
A doctor has a duty of care towards their patients to ensure that they provide a medical evaluation within established medical guidelines. Part of that duty involves correctly diagnosing a medical condition such as an aortic aneurysm. The failure to diagnose an aortic aneurysm may often lead to death. In these cases, a doctor typically believes that the symptoms exhibited by a patient indicate a different medical condition and not an aortic aneurysm.
However, a recent study showed that there is a 44% misdiagnosis rate for ruptured aortic aneurysms. Oftentimes, a doctor will think that the symptoms may be a heart attack or a blockage in the urinary tract. While CT scans are very successful at being able to determine if there is an aortic aneurysm present, a doctor may wait to order a CT scan, or somehow misinterpret or misread the symptoms and never order a CT scan at all.
With only a small chance of survival if someone has a rupture of their aortic artery outside of a hospital setting, the best course of action is to discover and treat an aortic aneurysm before it ruptures. Aortic aneurysms can be somewhat prevented if discovered early through lifestyle changes, or elective surgery to treat a larger aneurysm.
Contact a Medical Malpractice Attorney
If your loved one died due to the misdiagnosis of an aortic aneurysm, you may have the right to file a wrongful death claim on their behalf. Doctors may have acted negligently in diagnosing your loved one, or in delaying treatment of the aortic aneurysm.
For more information on how to determine if you may have a viable claim and how to proceed, contact our compassionate legal team today at (415) 541-0300 to schedule a free personal consultation in our San Francisco office. Or, if you prefer, send us a confidential message on our contact form, and you will receive a prompt response.