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What You Need to Know About Heart Attack Misdiagnosis

Injury Attorneys | Restoring LivesTM

July 17, 2017 | Medical Malpractice |

heart attack misdiagnosis

According to the CDC, heart disease is a leading cause of death for adults in the U.S. Even though heart attacks, also called acute myocardial infarctions, are a relatively common ailment they can be misdiagnosed just like any other disease. When it comes to heart attacks, making the correct diagnosis as early as possible can make a huge difference in treatment options and outcomes. Early diagnosis helps prevent complications, and could even be the difference between life and death.

When a doctor, physician’s assistant, lab technician, nurse, or other medical professional makes a negligent error in your health care, you could have a medical malpractice case. Indianapolis victims can talk to the medical malpractice attorneys at Wilson Kehoe Winingham for more information on the details of their potential case.

Here is what you need to know about heart attack misdiagnosis.

Heart Attack Symptoms

Heart attacks occur as a result of obstructed coronary arteries, which reduce or cut off blood entering and leaving the heart. This leads to a shortage of oxygen and eventually heart muscle damage. The exact symptoms can vary, depending on the seriousness and location of the blockage; some people might experience sudden or very intense symptoms, but others may experience more mild symptoms.

Any potential symptoms of a heart attack, like these, should not be ignored:

  • Chest pain or discomfort, even if it doesn’t radiate. The sensation might be a sharp pain, an ache, or even a “squeezing” sensation
  • Shortness of breath
  • Pain or discomfort anywhere in the upper body, including the shoulder, arm, back, jaw, stomach, head, or the area between the shoulder blades
  • Sudden fatigue, sleepiness, weakness, or low energy
  • Nausea or vomiting, especially when accompanied by other symptoms
  • A burning sensation in the chest or throat
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Feeling sweaty, clammy, or flushed
  • Heavy arms
  • Trouble sleeping, when accompanied by other symptoms
  • A sense of impending doom or intense anxiety

Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions

Patients who experience chest pains or the other “classic” heart attack symptoms will often go to an emergency room for treatment, but patients with less common symptoms could end up in the ER without knowing they could be experiencing cardiac problems. A doctor or medical staff member should be able to anticipate a heart attack by looking at a patient’s history, performing a complete physical exam, and ordering the proper tests promptly.

Sometimes heart attacks aren’t correctly diagnosed, however, and a patient will instead be diagnosed with any of these less serious conditions:

  • Heartburn
  • Acid reflux
  • Esophagitis
  • Angina
  • Bronchitis
  • Pneumonia
  • Anxiety attack
  • Gallstones
  • Musculoskeletal pain

Why Misdiagnosis Happens

There are a number of reasons why a doctor or hospital could make a negligent mistake that leads to misdiagnosing a heart attack. Some emergency rooms might not have the best resources to make an accurate diagnosis. Hospitals can be hectic environments where a lot of decisions need to be made very quickly. A staff shortage could mean a longer wait time, which for a heart attack patient, makes a big difference in the impact the disease has on the rest of their life.

In addition, a doctor could make a mistake, just like any human. A less-experienced doctor might miss symptoms. Or, they might not follow time-sensitive procedures or order the correct tests in a timely manner. Electrocardiograms, chest x-rays, CT scans, and blood tests are all integral to ruling out a heart attack. Even the misinterpretation of a medical test result—or a mistake in the lab running the tests—could lead to an incorrect diagnosis from a doctor. But a mistake can still be medical malpractice.

Demographic information can play a large role in the misdiagnosis of heart attack patients as well. Doctors can overlook a patient’s symptoms if they don’t fit the “profile” of a heart attack victim they’re expecting. Younger and healthier patients are more likely to have a missed or delayed heart attack diagnosis because they don’t fit the expected profile.

Elderly patients are at risk of a misdiagnosis because they often present with atypical symptoms, but also because they could have other chronic illnesses that make it harder for doctors to properly diagnose a heart attack. Women are another group often overlooked in heart attack diagnoses. They often experience different symptoms than men and are more likely to get sent home with anti-anxiety drugs, pain killers, or antidepressants than receive treatment for a heart attack.

Even if it’s uncommon, a doctor should rule out the possibility of a heart attack in a patient who has symptoms. If they fail to do so, their negligence could result in a medical malpractice case.

Medical Malpractice Attorneys in Indianapolis

You and your loved ones deserve the best care medical science can offer. Preventable mistakes from doctors are inexcusable, and such medical negligence could lead to a medical malpractice case. If a doctor or other healthcare provider misses your heart attack symptoms, or the diagnosis is delayed for longer than it needs to be, the risk of death increases. For patients who survive an undiagnosed heart attack or a heart attack with a delayed diagnosis, additional complications might mean readmission to the hospital and further medical bills.

For victims of medical malpractice and their families who are looking for justice and allies during a difficult time, WKW can help. In a medical malpractice case, you could recover damages for medical expenses, wage loss, and possibly pain and suffering as well. Remember that it’s better to get started with your case as soon as possible, Indiana’s statute of limitations for medical malpractice is two years from the date of the incident, so there’s little time to lose.

For a free, no-obligation consultation about how we can help, get in touch online or by phone at 317.920.6400.

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