Firm News & Events arrow Pneumonia Misdiagnosis: Conditions It’s Mistaken For & Consequences

Paul M. D'Amore
Paul M. D'Amore

Founding Member, Trial Lawyer

Pneumonia Misdiagnosis: Conditions It’s Mistaken For & Consequences

Doctors sometimes mistake pneumonia for other conditions, leading to dangerous delays in treatment.

Pneumonia can be quite serious, but it’s also relatively common. In fact, there are more than three million cases in the United States every year. Many people get pneumonia at least once during their lifetime.

Indeed, pneumonia is so common that when a patient presents with the classic signs and symptoms, doctor sometimes leap to an assumption of pneumonia, sending the patient home with that diagnosis and relatively little follow-up care.

The Dangers of Differential Diagnoses

There are several dangerous medical conditions that can look a lot like pneumonia upon initial examination. These are called differential diagnoses — serious medical conditions that mimic the symptoms of less serious conditions.

It’s imperative that doctors remain mindful of differential diagnoses, always considering the possibilities and taking prompt diagnostic action whenever warranted by the circumstances.

Too many patients have suffered needlessly because of a pneumonia misdiagnosis. Some have even died.  

When doctors misdiagnose a patient with pneumonia, they put that person at risk for serious complications. Delays in treatment can cause prolonged illness, long-term disability, or life-threatening disease progression.

Misdiagnosis also raises the specter of community outbreak. When a contagious patient returns home with a pneumonia misdiagnosis, he or she might unknowingly put friends, relatives, and neighbors at risk for infection with a more serious virus or bacterial infection.   

Despite these well-known risks, pneumonia misdiagnosis remains a real concern in the United States, including here in the state of Maryland and in the Washington, D.C. area.

Medical Conditions That Doctors Sometimes Mistake for Pneumonia

Serious medical conditions sometimes mistaken for pneumonia include:

  • Acute respiratory distress / failure
  • Bronchitis
  • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD)
  • Heart attack
  • Legionnaire’s disease
  • Measles
  • Myocarditis / pericarditis
  • Pulmonary edema
  • Pulmonary lymphoma / lung cancer
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Sepsis
  • Septicemia
  • Tuberculosis (TB)

Many of these conditions will grow rapidly worse without prompt and adequate treatment. Some are life-threatening medical emergencies, including pulmonary embolism, heart attack, sepsis, septicemia, and acute respiratory failure. A wrongful pneumonia diagnosis could prove fatal.

What If You Have Pneumonia and the Doctor Misses It?

So far, we have discussed the possibility of a doctor diagnosing you with pneumonia when you actually have something much worse.

But what if you do have pneumonia, and the doctor misses it? This type of pneumonia misdiagnosis happens sometimes too. Doctors can misdiagnose a serious case of pneumonia as:

  • The flu (influenza)
  • The common cold
  • Pleurisy
  • Sinus infection
  • Seasonal viruses or “bugs”
  • Other upper respiratory infections

If the doctor sends you home with the flu or some other condition, it might mean you don’t get the pneumonia treatment you need. Left untreated, pneumonia can pose serious health concerns.

How Do Doctors Misdiagnose Pneumonia?

Doctors might misdiagnose pneumonia for a number of different reasons, including:

  • Failure to order x-rays and other diagnostic imaging as needed
  • Failure to order appropriate blood tests
  • Rushing through the patient examination
  • Failure to take a complete and thorough patient history
  • Failure to consider differential diagnoses
  • Failure to instruct the patient to return for follow-up care
  • Mistakes in prescribing medication (e.g. the wrong medicine, the wrong dosage, etc.)
  • Mixing up patient files
  • Failing to foresee pneumonia as a potential complication of other illnesses, such as the flu

A pneumonia misdiagnosis may be especially likely during times of year when pneumonia is most common (such as the winter flu season and the weeks that follow it) or during a local outbreak of pneumonia.

If a doctor misdiagnoses pneumonia as a result of carelessness (i.e. medical negligence), you may have a claim for medical malpractice. An experienced Baltimore & D.C. medical malpractice lawyer at D’Amore Law can help.

Talk to an Experienced Baltimore & D.C. Medical Malpractice Lawyer at D’Amore Law

If you or your loved one has suffered after being wrongfully diagnosed with pneumonia in Maryland or the District of Columbia — or if you have suffered serious complications as a result of a missed pneumonia diagnosis — you may be entitled to substantial financial compensation.

Our team is dedicated to helping injured patients pursue the full and fair compensation they deserve. At D’Amore Law, we will not charge you a fee unless we’re able to recover money on your behalf.  

Before you accept a settlement offer from an insurance company, hospital, or physician’s group, get in touch with the Baltimore & D.C. medical malpractice lawyers at D’Amore Law. We offer free, no-obligation consultations to injured patients throughout Maryland and the District of Columbia.  

Call our office to discuss your options with our Baltimore, Annapolis, and Washington, D.C. medical malpractice attorneys today.

Dial 1-800-JUSTICE or contact us online to get started with a free consultation right away.

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