A heart attack, technically referred to as a myocardial infarction (MI), is a leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Sudden chest pain and shortness of breath are a few symptoms that prompt 911 calls and trips to the emergency room. Properly diagnosing and treating this life-threatening medical condition is critical. A missed heart attack diagnosis can have deadly consequences for hospital patients. Cases involving the medical staff’s negligent failure to make a timely and accurate diagnosis of a heart attack are common in medical malpractice litigation.

Factors that Contribute to a Missed Diagnosis

Hospital emergency rooms are frequently criticized for staffing shortages and hectic work environments, but many factors affect patient care. Wait times have increased considerably. In 1997, heart attack patients were treated in eight minutes. In 2006, care was delayed for 22 minutes. Sometimes, negligent emergency room physicians make mistakes or don’t follow time-sensitive protocols. They may also fail to recognize the symptoms.

Heart Attack Warning Signs

  • Chest discomfort is the most frequent symptom associated with heart attacks. It can range from intense pain to a subtle ache or squeezing sensation.
  • Due to reduced blood oxygen levels, patients may feel pain in their arms, shoulders, back, neck and jaw.
  • It’s common for heart attack victims to feel nauseous, lightheaded, dizzy or clammy.
  • Patients may experience shortness of breath with or without chest pain.
  • Sudden fatigue, sleepiness and low energy are also reported.

Identifying Common Symptoms

Heart attacks occur when the blood supply to part of the heart muscle itself is severely reduced or stopped. This happens when one or more of the coronary arteries supplying blood to the heart muscle is obstructed. The warning signs of a heart attack can vary depending on the type of obstruction. It’s widely known that women experience different symptoms. They may complain of stomach or back pain, flu-like symptoms or a burning feeling similar to acid reflux. Because of these atypical symptoms, women are three times more likely to receive an incorrect diagnosis compared to men. This may explain why heart attack is the number one killer of women in the United States.

Failure to Diagnose Heart Attacks

It’s true that heart attack symptoms aren’t always obvious, but emergency room doctors should have the knowledge and experience that’s needed to make an accurate diagnosis very quickly. After assessing the patient, doctors can order dozens of tests to confirm or rule out a heart attack. The most common tests include electrocardiograms to chart the heart’s function, chest X-rays or CT scans to identify muscle damage and blood tests to detect enzymes that occur after cardiac tissue death.

An Epidemic of Diagnostic Errors

Even when the right tests are performed, negative results can give physicians the false impression that the patient didn’t suffer from a heart attack. The most common incorrect diagnosis is heartburn followed by acute anxiety and other less severe causes of chest pain. Failing to explore all possible causes prevents patients from receiving the care and cardiac rehabilitation that they need. One study found that 30 percent of heart attack patients received the wrong diagnosis initially. It’s unclear how many people die as a result of missed heart attack diagnoses. Due to the prevalence, experts estimate that tens of thousands of Americans are affected annually.

The Mabrey Firm, P.C. has over 25 years of experience in handling medical malpractice cases arising from the failure to properly diagnose and treat heart attacks. If you or someone you love have suffered injuries as a result of a medical team’s failure to properly diagnose and treat your heart attack symptoms, contact us today to schedule your free consultation.

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