Misdiagnosed Pulmonary Embolism and Medical Malpractice


According to recent data, misdiagnosed pulmonary embolisms are among the top five causes of malpractice suits in the United States. When misdiagnosed, pulmonary embolisms are among the leading causes of death among hospitalized patients. The condition refers to a blood clot, which becomes lodged in the blood vessels of the lungs. Often, a clot forms in one of the larger veins in an extremity or the abdomen. Over time, the clot dislodges and moves into the lungs where it blocks an artery. This is known as a pulmonary embolism.

Patients that are experiencing symptoms of the condition typically present with clear clinical symptoms such as:

  • Shortness of breath or difficulty taking a deep breath; wheezing; or other signs of respiratory distress;
  • Chest pain, as well as diffused pain in areas surrounding the lungs such as the back or shoulders;
  • An accelerated heart rate;
  • Physical distress symptoms such as sweating or fever;
  • Anxiety;
  • A sensation of being dizzy or lightheaded;

Doctors, nurses, and other medical professionals must recognize the signs of embolisms and react immediately to ensure that a patient lives. In 2006, the Surgeon General sponsored a workshop on pulmonary embolisms and the related condition of deep vein thrombosis. At that time, the Call to Action suggested that although adequate tools and treatments existed to diagnose and successfully treat pulmonary embolism, that approximately 100,000 people still die annually from related conditions. Many of these deaths would be prevented with diagnosis and treatment that’s provided in a timely manner.

Understanding risk factors for pulmonary embolism

One of the biggest causes of misdiagnosis or failure to treat pulmonary embolisms in a timely way is medical professionals that fail to identify likely circumstantial factors and medical conditions that increase the likelihood of developing the disease including:

  • A history of clots or embolisms, personally or in the family
  • Hospitalization or surgery in the last four to six weeks
  • Extended periods of immobilization, including long distance air travel or car travel
  • Age related factors, e.g. older patients are at higher risk
  • Specific conditions including cancer, heart attack or heart disease, stroke, spinal cord injury, pregnancy, obesity, and many others
  • Lifestyle factors such as birth control use or smoking

In many cases, the symptoms of a pulmonary embolism can look like another condition. Yet medical staff must take immediate action when an embolism is suspected, including performing physical exams, treating blood clots, conducting testing such as venous Doppler studies, and running EKGs. Blood tests may also be ordered. Blood thinners or anticoagulants must be prescribed, and patients may need ongoing care to prevent, recover from, or thrive in the face of pulmonary embolisms.

Did a heath care professional fail to diagnose or misdiagnose a pulmonary embolism that affected you or a loved one? Contact us today to arrange for a personalized consultation and to discuss your case with an experienced malpractice attorney.