Pulmonary embolism is a leading cause of death and hospitalization in the U.S. There are a number of risk factors for the condition, which occurs when blood clots in the legs (called deep vein thrombosis or DVTs) break free, travel to the lungs and interfere with breathing. If the clot burden is significant enough, patients can die from pulmonary embolism. A medical malpractice case can arise when there is a failure to recognize risk factors for the condition and take steps to prophylax the patient using anticoagulants or other measures. Cases may also arise out of a delay in diagnosis and resulting delay in treatment once symptoms of PE arise. But we have seen cases where a patient had a condition that mimicked the symptoms of PE, and distracted the physicians from the correct diagnosis. A recent study suggests a fast and reliable way to rule out PE in these circumstances.
The British Medical Journal reports that a combination of a clinical assessment using the Wells criteria and a simple blood test, the D-dimer, can safely rule out PE. The Wells criteria are meant to identify key risk factors for PE, such as malignancy, previous PE or recent surgery. The D-dimer test identifies markers for PE in the bloodstream.
The signs and symptoms of pulmonary embolism are similar to other conditions that can also be life-threatening, like heart attack or sepsis. These signs and symptoms, like chest pain and shortness of breath, can also be caused by minor problems like respiratory infections or rib cage pain. Doctors are trained to rule out the more serious problems first because prompt diagnosis and treatment may mean the difference between life and death. If diagnosis is delayed unnecessarily, there may be grounds for a medical negligence claim under Ohio law.