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Failure to Diagnose Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a serious disease that causes irreversible lung scarring. This scarring makes breathing difficult, and eventually, the lungs are unable to inhale enough oxygen for the body to function properly. In many cases, a doctor is unable to determine the cause of pulmonary fibrosis. When there is no known cause of the disease, the fibrosis (scarring) is referred to as “idiopathic.” IPF causes progressive lung scarring that worsens over time. This is sometimes referred to as worsening fibrosis. Because IPF progresses at different rates, it’s critical to act early.

Over 250,000 Americans suffer from IPF. The prevalence of IPF is increasing, with over 50,000 new cases diagnosed each year. More than half of IPF patients are initially misdiagnosed with other types of cardiovascular or respiratory disease, such as COPD or asthma.  A diagnosis of IPF has serious consequences for the affected individuals, who have a 50% chance of dying within 2-3 years, which is worse than the outcome of many cancers.

A prompt and accurate diagnosis is critical, especially because starting treatment at an early disease stage may have the greatest impact on slowing disease progression.  The high likelihood that those with IPF will undergo a series of incorrect diagnoses may expose them to ineffective treatments. A misdiagnosis could cause the application of potentially effective therapies to be delayed. Early detection of this means patients have a chance of living longer lives.

When a person’s health deteriorates because of a misdiagnosis, concerns about medical malpractice may arise. A delayed diagnosis could cause significant harm, such as a worsening medical condition. This could necessitate the need for more expensive medical care and treatment. Patients who find themselves in this situation should consult with an attorney to see what options they have. If you or someone you care about has been harmed by a healthcare provider’s failure to diagnose IPF promptly, we may be able to help.  Our highly experienced medical malpractice attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano may be able to assist you in obtaining the compensation you deserve.  We serve clients throughout Upstate New York and have offices in several convenient locations. Our extensive experience in the field of medical malpractice is reflected in the results we have obtained for our clients. A successful medical malpractice case must show that the healthcare practitioner or facility did not meet the required standard of care. To make that determination, an attorney will review the patient’s medical records and consult with experts.

The longer the delay in correct diagnosis, the more risk that a person will die from complications of IPF in the five years after diagnosis. There are other risks as well. The long, difficult journey to a correct diagnosis takes a toll on people’s quality of life.  In a survey of 600 people with IPF, nearly nine out of ten (90%) said that the time and effort required to obtain an accurate diagnosis significantly reduced the amount of time they could spend with family and friends. Almost one-third (28%) reported having to retire or take disability leave from their job. Emotional stress is also very high during this journey. Approximately 8 out of 10 people (80%) reported experiencing difficult emotions to some degree.

The symptoms of IPF are similar to those of other types of pulmonary fibrosis. Many people with IPF have no symptoms at the start of the disease. Some people may experience a bothersome cough or notice that they tire more easily.  As the disease progresses and scarring forms in the lungs’ air sacs, breathlessness during exercise and daily activities become more common. People suffering from PF may also experience fatigue, anxiety, or depression.

Pulmonary function tests assess how much air the lungs can hold and how well they work in general. Scarring can cause the lungs to shrink and stiffen, making them unable to fully expand. This means that the lungs can hold less air. Scar tissue may also impair the lungs’ ability to transfer oxygen to the bloodstream. Blood tests can reveal exposures that may have caused a person’s lung injury or show the presence of other diseases that may be linked to the development of PF. A physician can often confirm an IPF diagnosis after reviewing the results of all of these tests.  When more information is required, a lung biopsy may be performed.

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis is a progressive disease, which means that fibrosis develops over time, gradually increasing breathlessness and the need for more oxygen. IPF progresses in a variety of ways, with some people experiencing a slow but steady decline in lung function and others experiencing a more rapid worsening of the disease. Acute exacerbations are sudden declines in functioning in IPF patients. Lung failure (medically known as “respiratory failure”), a potentially fatal condition, can develop over time.

It is critical that you understand that there is no way to predict how long someone with IPF will live. You may have heard that the average life expectancy for people with IPF is only “three to five years.” This is an out-of-date figure. Many people will live much longer than three to five years if earlier diagnoses and better treatments are available. Others will develop respiratory failure sooner than three years, with some becoming critically ill months or years after their diagnosis. Nobody can tell you how long you will live with IPF. Everyone is unique. Your doctor can provide you with more specific information about your prognosis.

Lung transplantation, which replaces one or both lungs with a new lung (or lungs) from a donor, is one treatment option for PF. In the United States in 2019, approximately 2,714 people received lung transplants, with IPF accounting for approximately 35% of those recipients. Lung transplantation is an important therapy for some PF patients, but with only 1,000 lungs available per year for those with the disease, most people will never receive one.

Individuals who receive negligent medical treatment may have legal recourse. An attorney who practices medical malpractice law may pursue financial compensation against negligent physicians on behalf of clients whose misdiagnoses resulted in a worsened condition, unnecessary treatment, the spread of disease, delayed treatment, or death.  The experienced medical malpractice attorneys at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano have won cases for our clients across the Upstate New York area, including Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Elmira, Binghamton, Auburn, Ithaca, Oswego, Norwich, Herkimer, Delhi, Cooperstown, Cortland, Lowville, Oneida, Watertown, Utica, Canandaigua, Wampsville, Lyons, and surrounding areas.  Please call us at 833-200-2000 or contact us via our online form to discuss your case.

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