Woman suffered stroke after heart condition went undiagnosed
The family of a woman who suffered a stroke after her heart condition was not diagnosed for six years after symptoms were spotted has reached a five-figure settlement with her GP.
Posted on 20 December 2023
The woman, who we are calling Margaret, had a heart condition called atrial fibrillation, which causes an abnormal heartbeat and a feeling of the heart ”fluttering”. As is common in atrial fibrillation, Margaret’s condition was paroxysmal, which means each episode is temporary and passes after a few minutes, hours, or days.
In 2009, when she was aged 82, Margaret attended her GP because she felt unwell and had been having palpitations for a couple of days. On examination, Margaret’s GP found that she had a fast, shaky, and irregular pulse. The GP believed Margaret probably had atrial fibrillation and would need an ECG.
However, instead of carrying out the ECG at the GP practice there and then as many GPs can, or urgently referring Margaret to hospital, it was performed a week later. By that time, the temporary episode of atrial fibrillation had passed and so went undiagnosed and untreated. Untreated atrial fibrillation can lead to a number of issues including the development of blood clots.
In November 2015, Margaret suffered two episodes of confusion and slurred speech. She was admitted to hospital and diagnosed with a stroke, caused by a blood clot travelling to her brain. Heart investigations confirmed she had atrial fibrillation, and she was started on anticoagulation medication to prevent further blood clots.
Before her stroke, Margaret was still mentally sharp, enjoyed reading and crossword puzzles, and could look after herself and her husband without any outside help. After her stroke, Margaret’s speech, short-term memory, and ability to manage day to day tasks were all badly affected, and she needed both professional and family care for the first time in her life. She passed away in June 2017.
The medical experts instructed by Leigh Day were clear that an urgent, same-day ECG should have taken place when Margaret’s GP found clinical evidence of atrial fibrillation in June 2009 and that urgent ECG would have confirmed the diagnosis. They said it is likely that Margaret would then have been prescribed anticoagulation medication to prevent blood clots that would probably have stopped her from having a stroke in November 2015.
After setting out Paul’s allegations to the Defendant and a process of negotiation, whilst liability was not admitted, a settlement was reached.
Rebecca Ridgeon is an associate solicitor in the medical negligence department.