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Delay in stroke treatment can cause speech problems, aphasia

Communication difficulty can often be reversed with prompt diagnosis and care

I was surprised to see the word “stroke” trending on Twitter today, and then even more surprised to see it was because of witness testimony before the U.S. House January 6th Select Committee hearing. 

The tweets started with comments about how a committee witness, J. Michael Luttig, a retired U.S. Fourth Circuit judge, sounded, or more specifically his manner of speaking. Some commented that Mr. Luttig suffers from a speech impediment caused by a stroke. I couldn’t immediately verify that.

What is for certain, though, is that aphasia, or speech difficulty, is a well-known complication strokes. In fact, it aphasia can be one of the most difficult problems for stroke survivors to deal with. 

Thinking about aphasia reminds me of a young woman in her 20s who I represented in a stroke medical malpractice case. She had gone to a comprehensive stroke center hospital in Houston’s Texas Medical Center. Her boyfriend was with her when she immediately slumped over on the couch, couldn’t speak, and had other familiar stroke symptoms including a one-sided facial droop and weakness on the same side. He got her to the hospital within 30 minutes from the onset of symptoms, but her clear case of an ischemic stroke was misdiagnosed and she was sent home without treatment.

Ischemic strokes are caused by a blood clot that breaks loose and blocks blood flow to part of the brain. Fortunately, if the patient gets to a hospital quickly enough, a physician can administer the clot-busting drug tPA, which often reverses the stroke symptoms and impairments.

Unfortunately, even though this patient did her part and got to the hospital quickly, the doctors and nurses let her down by failing to recognize the seriousness of her condition and get her tPA immediately. Their misdiagnosis and lack of treatment left this woman with several permanent neurologic impairments, the most significant being aphasia.

When interacting with her, one could easily tell that she had the same clarity of thought she always had. She just had a tremendous difficulty in word finding and speaking. This frustrated her because she knew what she wanted to say in her mind, but just couldn’t vocalize it. 

Unfortunately, on top of aphasia, she had another stroke impairment called apraxia. This is a related condition that can interfere with the fine motor function necessary to write. For her to communicate, she would alternate between trying to speak and trying to write on a tablet.

According to the American Stroke Association, there are number of different types of aphasia. All of them are devastating to the affected patients, families, and friends. Here are three types:

Wernicke’s aphasia, or receptive aphasia: With this type of aphasia, the person uses incorrect words or words that don’t make sense.

Broca’s aphasia, or expressive aphasia: People with this type of aphasia have difficulty forming and understanding complete sentences. They sometimes leave out words or substitute similar words, rather than using the exact words intended.

Global aphasia: This causes problems in understanding and forming words and sentences.

If you’ve been seriously injured because of stroke care in Texas and suffer permanent neurologic deficits, such as aphasia, then contact a top-rated, experienced Texas medical malpractice lawyer for a free consultation about your potential case.

Robert Painter is an award-winning medical malpractice attorney at Painter Law Firm PLLC, in Houston, Texas. He is a former hospital administrator who represents patients and family members in medical negligence and wrongful death lawsuits all over Texas. Contact him by calling 281-580-8800 or emailing him right now.


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