Strokes have many of the same symptoms as other medical conditions. Medical providers may overlook or discount the initial signs of strokes in all kinds of people, largely as a result of considering other conditions first. For example, the severe headache a stroke may cause could be misdiagnosed as a migraine headache if a patient has a history of migraines.

Many of the people who are misdiagnosed in the emergency room each year are misdiagnosed after claiming they were dizzy or had headaches. Those under the age of 45, women and minorities were the most likely to have their conditions misdiagnosed.

What signs point to a stroke?

Medical providers know that two of the common symptoms of strokes in the early stages include headaches and dizziness. A stroke should be one of the first conditions on their radar. Instead, many people are told that they have inner ear infections or migraines. Data shows that missed strokes that lead to harm in patients occurs around 15,000 to 165,000 times annually.

Knowing this, patients can take steps to make sure their headaches, dizziness and other symptoms aren’t misdiagnosed. How?

  • Be clear if this is the worst headache you’ve ever had. Be honest about the severity of your symptoms.
  • If a medical provider suggests a benign condition that you know you don’t have, speak up. For instance, if you are told you have an ear infection but have no pain or fever, you may want to ask for a second opinion.

Patients shouldn’t have to take steps to verify their providers’ claims, but if you want to protect yourself, remember that you can, and should, speak up and take control of your own care.