As you know from our blog, medical malpractice takes many forms and occurs for many reasons. We have previously reported on how the medical community is slow to adapt to changes in behavioral patterns of the population that impact the incidence of certain medical conditions. For example, we reported earlier how the obesity epidemic is increasing the incidence of stroke in younger patients and how tanning beds are increasing the incidence of malignant melanoma in younger patients. When physicians are blind to these new trends, young patients are at risk for misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis that can result in harm. A recent report by the American Heart Association (AHA) sheds light on a new problem: failure to recognize and treat high blood pressure in young adults.
With increasingly sedentary lifestyles and an unabated obesity epidemic, high blood pressure (also called “hypertension”) is a common problem in the U.S. Unfortunately, hypertension is now affecting younger and younger patients. The AHA reported that adults aged 18 to 24 who had high blood pressure were 28% less likely to be diagnosed during doctor visits than older patients.
As many of you know, high blood pressure is simple to measure. A blood pressure cuff is placed on the patient’s arm and a reading is collected, usually by a skilled nurse. Normal blood pressure is in the range of 100-140mmHg systolic (top reading) and 60-90mmHg diastolic (bottom reading). High blood pressure is said to be present if it is persistently at or above 140/90 mmHg. Once diagnosed, hypertension can be controlled by modifying salt intake, medications and other measures.
However, when there is a delay in diagnosis, significant damage to the body may occur. In the worst cases, the delay in treatment can cause a heart attack, stroke, kidney failure, impaired vision or blindness. Under Ohio law, when a physician is aware that a patient has hypertension but takes no steps to treat the condition, and harm occurs, a claim for medical negligence may exist. The physician will not be excused from a medical malpractice case by the fact that the patient is younger.