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The Dangers of a Missed Meningitis Diagnosis

Meningitis is a serious bacterial infection that can lead to blood poisoning, brain damage, nerve damage or death if not caught and treated promptly. Unfortunately, medical malpractice can cause a delay in diagnosis of this dangerous condition. A delayed or missed meningitis diagnosis can have life-threatening consequences. A Philadelphia meningitis attorney can help you explore your legal options if medical malpractice caused you to suffer a preventable illness.

A Hospital Bed and Medical Equipment

What Is Meningitis?

The brain and spinal cord are surrounded by fluid and membranes known as meninges. If the meninges become infected or inflamed, it is known as meningitis. Meningitis is often caused by viral infections, bacteria, parasites or fungi. Bacterial meningitis is one of the most common types. It can occur when bacteria enter the bloodstream and travel to the brain and spinal cord. Meningitis is a dangerous disease that can be fatal if not recognized, diagnosed and treated promptly.

Can Doctors Miss Meningitis?

The early symptoms of meningitis can mimic the flu. They often include headache, fever, nausea, vomiting and a stiff neck. These symptoms may develop over the course of a few hours or days. As the infection progresses, a patient may notice trouble concentrating, confusion, fatigue, trouble waking, sensitivity to light, a loss of appetite and seizures. Certain types of meningitis can also cause a skin rash (meningococcal meningitis). In a newborn, the signs of meningitis can include high fever, incessant crying, sleepiness, poor feeding and vomiting.

If a patient visits a doctor or emergency room presenting symptoms of meningitis, the health care provider may misinterpret the symptoms as the common flu or another less serious disease. Medical negligence (or malpractice) greatly increases the risk of a missed meningitis diagnosis. An understaffed medical center, for example, may not pay sufficient attention to a patient with meningitis, allowing the patient to slip through the cracks. The patient may leave without being seen by a doctor at all or after only a cursory checkup that does not diagnose the condition.

Ignoring a patient’s medical history and failing to look for risk factors can also lead to a missed diagnosis. A patient who has not received the recommended vaccinations, for example, or someone with a weakened immune system due to a chronic condition, is at a higher risk of developing meningitis. Anyone living in a community setting, pregnant or younger than age five is also at an increased risk. A doctor should always take the time to check a patient’s history and medical records before making a diagnosis or discharging the patient.

What Happens if You Don’t Treat Meningitis?

The mildest cases of meningitis can clear up on their own, without treatment, in just a few weeks. However, some cases can be deadly and require emergency medical intervention. In many cases, a patient needs antibiotics to clear up the infection. Time is of the essence when treating meningitis. It is an unpredictable infection that can go from mild to deadly in a matter of hours. This is why the prompt and timely diagnosis of meningitis is critical. A misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can put a patient’s life at risk.

If left untreated, meningitis can cause serious complications. A severe infection of the meninges can cause permanent brain damage, seizures and death. The longer an individual has this disease without treatment, the greater the risk of irreversible neurological damage. Potential complications due to a missed diagnosis include brain damage, permanent hearing loss, memory problems, learning disabilities, motor function disorders, organ failure, seizures and shock.

Who Is Liable for a Missed Meningitis Diagnosis?

Meningitis is often treatable, especially when detected early. If a doctor is negligent and fails to make a prompt diagnosis, the patient can suffer severe consequences or even lose his or her life. In this scenario, the doctor or health care center could be held liable (financially responsible) for harm caused to the patient.

A Philadelphia medical malpractice lawsuit can be filed to hold the negligent physician or hospital accountable for a delayed or missed meningitis diagnosis. A lawsuit allows the victim and victim’s family to seek financial compensation for all of their losses. To find out if you have grounds for a lawsuit for a missed meningitis diagnosis, contact Youman & Caputo at (215) 274-0642.