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Can a failure to diagnose POEMS lead to unnecessary suffering?

On Behalf of | Dec 14, 2022 | Medical Malpractice

Individuals trust medical professionals to accurately diagnose dangerous conditions so they can begin a potentially lifesaving course of treatment. Even if the condition is not fatal, patients could suffer pain, cognitive impairment and mobility issues. When struggling through these conditions, patients who face a medical misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis could suffer chronic pain and a worsening condition. A rare condition, such as POEMS syndrome, could result in dangerous symptoms.

What is POEMS syndrome?

POEMS syndrome is an autoimmune disease that is a rare blood disorder. Autoimmune conditions cause the immune system to attack normal, healthy cells in the body by incorrectly interpreting them as foreign substances. It causes damage to the nerves and affects various areas of the body. The acronym “POEMS” stands for the symptoms the condition causes:

  • Polyneuropathy causes numbness, tingling and weakness of the legs and sometimes, the hands and breathing difficulties.
  • Organomegaly causes an enlarged liver, spleen or lymph nodes.
  • Endocrinopathy, or edema, causes hormonal level problems that result in sexual issues, fatigue, diabetes, hypothyroidism, limb swelling and metabolism problems.
  • Monoclonal protein, which is abnormal bone marrow cells, produces a type of protein in the bloodstream. The bones can abnormally harden or thicken as a result of this symptom.
  • Skin changes can result in thicker skin, red spots, increased facial or leg hair and more pigmentation than normal on the skin.

Cause of POEMS syndrome

The cause of POEMS syndrome is unknown, but those who are affected have more plasma cells than normal. Those cells produce excess amounts of a specific protein, which leads to other parts of the body suffering damage. However, it can often lead to misdiagnosis because of the similarity of the symptoms to those of other conditions.

Usually, when a doctor diagnoses a person with POEMS syndrome, they look for the presence of two symptoms: polyneuropathy and monoclonal protein. They will also check for lesions on the bone and organomegaly, endocrinopathy or skin changes.

It’s possible to treat POEMS, but there’s no cure. Radiation, chemotherapy, and, sometimes, a stem-cell transplant might be needed. Treatment could potentially alleviate painful symptoms and lead to a quality of life improvement. A medical misdiagnosis could delay treatment and lead to unnecessary pain and suffering in the patient.

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