Med Mal Matters: Having an Advocate in Health Care

Advocacy Series: Heart Attack Misdiagnosis

Scartelli Olszewski P.C.

In this series we show you the importance of being your own advocate when it comes to your health and the many ways you can prevent common medical errors.

Why should you take charge?

Medical errors are considered the third leading cause of death in the United States. The American Association for Justice estimates that 440,000 errors resulting in death occur each year. We’ve learned a thing or two after handling medical malpractice cases for more than 30 years. We’ve learned that while medicine is complex, errors often can be prevented in simple, common sense ways. When you take charge of your own medical information you can actually decrease the odds it will happen to you.

Advocacy Series Highlight: Heart Attack Misdiagnosis

In the United States, an estimated 1.5 million people each year suffer an acute myocardial infarction (AMI), commonly known as a heart attack. Heart attacks are indicative of heart disease, which is the leading cause of death in both men and women. Despite the prevalence of cardiovascular conditions in our society, doctors still misdiagnose heart attacks in 2%-8% of patients. Heart attack misdiagnosis is the most common medical negligence claim against hospital emergency departments, and there have been numerous studies investigating these serious medical errors.

How does this happen?

Extensive research indicates that factors like age, sex, and symptom presentation affect the chance of misdiagnosis. Younger people, including those under 55, are more likely to be misdiagnosed than older patients presenting with chest pain. Women are also more likely to receive an incorrect diagnosis. 1 in 5 women die from heart disease, but doctors still may misinterpret the symptoms women experience during a heart attack, including chest pain, as anxiety or gastrointestinal problems. Similarly, patients who complain of several symptoms including chest pain have a higher rate of misdiagnosis.

What can I do to protect myself from a heart attack misdiagnosis?

Knowing the symptoms and risk factors can help you advocate for yourself. Risk factors for heart disease include smoking, heavy drinking, eating an unhealthy diet high in saturated fats and bad cholesterol, and having a family history of heart problems. Heart attacks can have a variety of presentations. Symptoms include:

  • Pain, pressure, or tightness in the chest
  • Nausea, heartburn, abdominal pain
  • Pain in the jaw, neck, or arms
  • Shortness of breath, fatigue, dizziness

Progress needs to be made in the diagnosis of heart attacks, and healthcare systems continue to implement new protocols and diagnostic tools in their efforts to eliminate these grave mistakes. Not only are emergency room providers susceptible to making this diagnostic error, but also urgent care centers, primary care physicians, cardiologists, and ambulatory technicians. Failing to diagnose a heart attack often has devastating results, including permanent heart damage and death.Visit our blog to learn more about how to be your own advocate. If you or a loved one is the victim of medical negligence, call or message our office today.

Sources:

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16304077

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2825679/

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19104242

https://news.yale.edu/2018/02/19/heart-attack-symptoms-often-misinterpreted-younger-women