Epilepsy, a neurological disorder characterized by recurrent seizures, affects millions of individuals worldwide. A timely and accurate diagnosis is crucial for effective management of the condition. Failure to diagnose epilepsy not only deprives patients of necessary treatment but can also lead to serious injuries from uncontrolled seizures.
How do medical professionals diagnose epilepsy?
The medical community generally expects medical professionals to adhere to a systematic approach when diagnosing epilepsy. This can include:
- Get patient information. It is important for medical professionals to gather a detailed patient history to identify seizure types and triggers. Patients can help by being prepared to describe the seizure and an estimate of how long the seizure episodes last.
- Order tests. Medical professionals should generally perform a neurological examination to rule out other conditions and utilize electroencephalogram (EEG) tests to detect abnormalities in brain activity. Neuroimaging, such as MRI or CT scans, can also help to identify structural causes.
- Reach out to specialists. It is also generally recommended that medical professionals refer to a specialist, preferably at an epilepsy center, for complex cases.
It is important to note that the right course of action is constantly changing as we gather more information about this debilitating disorder. State boards expect physicians and other medical professionals to stay up to date on changes that impact their field. In a recent example, the National Association of Epilepsy Centers (NAEC) updated its guidelines to improve the standard of care for epilepsy patients. These guidelines emphasize the importance of early and accurate diagnosis and recommend comprehensive care that includes medical, psychological, and social components. The updates impact dozens of guidelines, including outpatient care and the use of surgical interventions as part of a treatment plan.
What happens if a medical professional fails to properly diagnose epilepsy?
The biggest health risk resulting from untreated epilepsy is sudden unexpected death in epilepsy (SUDEP). SUDEP refers to the sudden, unexpected death of a person with epilepsy who was otherwise healthy and in whom no other cause of death is found upon autopsy. While the exact cause of SUDEP is not fully understood, it is believed to involve a combination of factors, including respiratory dysfunction, cardiac abnormalities, and autonomic nervous system dysfunction during or after a seizure.
Other significant health risks of untreated epilepsy include Status Epilepticus This is a potentially life-threatening condition in which seizures follow one another without recovery of consciousness between them. It requires immediate medical intervention to prevent lasting brain damage or death.
People with uncontrolled seizures are at a higher risk of injury from falls, drowning, burns, and car accidents due to losing consciousness or control over body movements during a seizure.
In children with epilepsy, especially those with frequent seizures, there can be development delays in language, motor skills, and learning abilities.
Those who fail to follow the accepted standard of care when it comes to diagnosis of epilepsy can face liability for the cost of injuries if a seizure leads to an accident. The costs can extend not just to the patient but to anyone else that was injured as a result of the seizure — for example, injuries that result from a car accident caused by a seizure.
As epilepsy can have a profound impact on a patient’s quality of life, it is imperative that healthcare providers are thorough in their diagnostic process. By following best practices and adhering to updated care guidelines, medical professionals can better ensure proper diagnosis and patients can get the care they need.
Patients who are not accurately diagnosed can hold the medical professionals who fail to meet the accepted standard of care liable through a civil suit. This can result in monetary damages to help cover the costs that result from their professional failure.