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Clinical Negligence Lawyer Discusses Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm

I have recently secured clinical negligence compensation for the family of a woman who died after doctors failed to diagnose a ruptured Aortic Aneurysm. 

Having successfully dealt with numberous Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm claims it surprises me how easily this condition is missed even though it is a textbook event Accident and Emergency doctors should be looking out for.
The aorta is the main artery leading from the heart and supplying blood to other arteries. It curves upwards and then heads downwards in front of the spine. Sometimes the wall of the aorta becomes weak and pressure from the blood as it is pumped by the heart forces the weak wall to expand – much as a balloon weakens as it is inflated. The weakness is called an ‘Aneurysm’. (Where the aneurysm is in the lower part of the aorta it is called an Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm or AAA.) The Aneurysm can then burst (rupture). This is a surgical emergency and for a patient to survive, surgery must be done urgently. Even then there is a significant risk that the operation will not save the patient’s life.
Aortic Aneurysms are more common in men. The symptoms are sudden abdominal pain spreading to the back, collapse, vomiting, falling blood pressure and faster breathing. It is crucial that Accident and Emergency doctors recognise the symptoms, arrange a CT or ultrasound scan and refer the patient for surgery urgently.
In several recent cases doctors missed the condition. In one, a doctor wrongly diagnosed a heart condition despite there being no evidence to support the diagnosis. The condition was correctly diagnosed in the end but it was too late to save his life. In another, the Accident and Emergency doctor got the diagnosis right and referred the woman to surgeons. However the surgeons missed it and discharged her. She died at home 15 hours later.
Accident and Emergency doctors are working under pressure and dealing with a very wide range of conditions. They cannot be expected always to get the diagnosis right although they should know what specialists to refer patients to and when. However aortic aneurysms are a textbook case of a serious condition which must be diagnosed and treated urgently. All Emergency doctors and all surgeons should be able to recognise them.

Some medical mistakes just should not happen, and this is one. In most of my clinical negligence cases the hospitals have eventually accepted that these mistakes should not have happened (although it always takes some persuading for them to admit Medical Negligence). Sadly however the consequences for the patients and their families were tragic.

Paul Sankey is a Clinical and Medical Negligence Solicitor at Slater and Gordon Lawyers in London.

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