Seung-Han Lee, Victoria Stanton, Richard E. Rothman, Barbara Crain, Robert Wityk, Zheyu Wang, David E. Newman-Toker
February 21, 2017
Background: Early-stage cerebellar hemorrhage can present with nausea or vomiting absent other neurological symptoms or signs, potentially leading to an incorrect diagnosis of gastroenteritis. We sought to determine the frequency of gastroenteritis-like presentations and delayed or missed diagnoses among patients with spontaneous cerebellar hemorrhage. Methods: This is a retrospective, case-control analysis of atraumatic, primary cerebellar hemorrhages derived from a systematic search of surgical pathology and autopsy databases at two large urban, academic medical centers from 1984 to 2006. Hospital visit and clinical symptom data were abstracted from electronic and paper medical records for included patients. Delayed or missed diagnoses were defined as those at least one previous visit for relevant clinical symptoms in the 7 days prior to the correct diagnosis being confirmed. Results: Among 254 records captured by our search filter, we identified 35 cases of pathologically proven primary cerebellar hemorrhage. Four patients (11%) were misdiagnosed initially – three with “gastroenteritis” and one with “hypertension”. In this small sample, misdiagnosed patients presented more often with normal mental state (100% vs. 35%, p=0.07) and nausea/vomiting (100% vs. 58%, p=0.22). Although patients deteriorated clinically after the initial misdiagnosis, and potentially dangerous diagnostic tests and treatment strategies were instituted as a result of misdiagnosis, none of the misdiagnosed patients died or suffered major permanent harms due to diagnostic delay. Conclusions: Our study is limited by the small number of identified cases. Nevertheless, it appears that patients with cerebellar hemorrhages can present with relatively unimpressive clinical findings without obvious neurological manifestations. Such individuals are sometimes misdiagnosed with gastroenteritis or other benign disorders initially, possibly when neurologic examination, particularly gait testing, is omitted or abridged. A careful search for subtle cerebellar signs, including dysarthria, limb ataxia, nystagmus or tandem gait instability, absent in true gastroenteritis cases, could potentially reduce misdiagnosis.