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Posted on 24th April 2017

Misdiagnosis of Pulmonary Embolisms

A pulmonary embolism (also known as PE) is a blockage in an artery in the lungs. The blockage didn’t start in that artery but it travelled there in the bloodstream hence the embolism part of the name.

A patient with PE may experience shortness of breath, chest pain when breathing and coughing blood. It is a life threatening condition because it may stop blood getting to the lungs.

According to a study in the British Medical Journal of six General Practices covering more than 50,000 patients, it was found that of almost 130 patients who went to their GP with symptoms, just over 30 (26%) were classed as having a delayed diagnosis of 7 days or more. This could be due to medical negligence by a GP or hospital doctor.  Pulmonary embolus cases are a common cause of hospital medical negligence claims and missed pulmonary embolus is a common cause of patients claiming against the NHS.   

Causes of a Pulmonary Embolism

A blood clot in one of the deep veins in the legs or pelvis, also known as Deep Vein Thrombosis (DVT) is the cause of a PE and the clot travels to your lungs. A DVT can occur due to trauma or when a person does not move around enough such as on a long haul flight. A DVT can also occur during pregnancy. reports that less than 50% of people who die from a Pulmonary Embolism are suspected to have a PE when they attend their doctor. They also report that many cases of Deep Vein Thrombosis progress to a Pulmonary Embolism without any symptoms of DVT being present.  Misdiagnosed DVT can be a cause of claims against a GP or hospital doctor.

 Why does a delay in diagnosis happen?

Pulmonary Embolisms are one of the most frequently missed problems in clinical practice and cause an estimated 500,000 deaths per year. They are a common cause of medical negligence claims.

The symptoms of a PE are frequently mistaken for other problems but immediate treatment is needed to avoid significant complications. Anticoagulant therapy should be started immediately.

How should a Pulmonary Embolism be diagnosed?

NHS Choices says that several tests can be used to diagnose a Pulmonary Embolism including a blood test called D-dimer. If high levels of D-dimer are found in your blood it suggests that you have a PE and/or DVT. A doctor might fail to arrange a D-dimer blood test when they should. A doctor might fail to act on a raised D-dimer blood test. These are examples of pulmonary embolus medical negligence.    

A CTPA (Computerised Tomography Pulmonary Angiography) can be used to examine the blood vessels. Prior to the CTPA, a dye is injected which helps the visibility of blood vessels. If an embolism is present, it will show as a gap in your bloodstream. Failing to report the scan properly would be radiology medical negligence.


A Ventilation-perfusion scan can also be used but this is less common now. This measures the air and blood flow in the lungs. Before the scan you will be asked to inhale a gas which has no taste or smell, the purpose of which is to aid airflow in the lungs. If the scan shows no blood supply and air in them, it may be a result of a pulmonary embolism.

 In 2012 the British Lung Foundation reported deaths from lung disease.


Cancer 31.0%
COPD (Constructive Obstructive Pulmonary Disease) 26.1%
Pneumonia 25.3%
Pulmonary fibrosis 4.6%
Pleural mesothelioma 2.1%
Pulmonary embolism 2.0%
Bronchiectasis 1.4%
Other 3.7%


Can I make a clinical negligence claim for a misdiagnosed Pulmonary Embolism?

Sometimes an apology is enough, but in other cases compensation for medical negligence will be the only solution to help you get your life back on track.

If you or a loved one visits a doctor who makes an incorrect diagnosis and the actual condition is later found to be a Pulmonary Embolism, you may be able to make a medical negligence claim.

Our service, putting you in contact with one of our medical negligence solicitors who specialise in medical negligence claims is free and you are not obliged to take the advice the solicitor gives you, or to progress your claim any further if you do not wish.

In order to satisfy legal tests our specialist clinical negligence solicitors will need to be able to establish that you or a loved one has suffered an injury because of an undiagnosed or misdiagnosed Pulmonary Embolism. They will then investigate whether there has been any wrong doing by a doctor and assess your potential claim.

Contact us on 03303559210 or for a free medical negligence claim assessment.

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