4 Errors That Lead to Heart Attack Misdiagnosis May 10, 2024.

4 Errors That Lead to Heart Attack Misdiagnosis

Heart attacks are one of the most common types of heart disease, affecting around 805,000 Americans each year. Despite how common they are, heart attacks are still regularly misdiagnosed by physicians.

Understanding Heart Attacks

A heart attack occurs when there is reduced blood flow and oxygen to the heart. The reduced blood flow is typically caused by cholesterol deposits, called plaque. Over time, the plaque builds up in the coronary (heart) artery. This build-up causes blood to not be able to reach the heart.

The heart is a muscle, so when there is a lack of blood flow and oxygen the muscle will begin to die. For this reason, medical professionals have coined the phrase “time equals muscle. In simple terms, this means that if the heart attack isn't treated quickly, then there will be more damage to the heart.

Physicians stress that heart attacks need to be treated within the first 90 minutes, due to the fact that around 85% of damage will occur within this time frame.

Symptoms and Risk Factors

Most people know the classic symptoms of a heart attack, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, and fatigue. However, not everyone experiences these symptoms, which can make it harder to diagnose.
Anyone can have a heart attack, but they are more likely to happen to individuals who are:

  1. Obese
  2. Diabetic
  3. Older than 45 for men, or older than 55 for women
  4. Living a sedentary lifestyle
  5. Not eating a healthy, well-balanced diet
  6. Stressed

Since anyone can have a heart attack, physicians need to perform the necessary tests, even if the patient isn't a “high-risk” individual.

Errors That Lead To Heart Attack Misdiagnosis

Heart attacks are known to be one of the most commonly misdiagnosed medical conditions. The misdiagnosis of a heart attack can be caused by several errors within a healthcare facility.
Common errors that lead to heart attack misdiagnosis include:

  1. Not performing proper tests
  2. Reading test results incorrectly
  3. Incorrectly diagnosing the patient with another issue
  4. Failing to recognize atypical symptoms

Not Performing Proper Tests

If the patient does not fit the profile of being at a high risk, then the physician may never suspect that they are having a heart attack. This is why patients need to be tested for a heart attack if they are showing symptoms.
Proper testing for a heart attack includes:

  1. Electrocardiogram
  2. Blood test
  3. Chest x-ray
  4. Echocardiogram

Younger Individuals Having Heart Attacks

A common misconception about heart attacks is that only older people experience them. But this is not the case, so all patients showing the symptoms should be tested for one.

According to the Cardio Metabolic Institute, about 1 in 5 heart attacks happen to individuals who are less than 40 years old.

However, an untreated heart attack in a younger individual does not improve their chances of recovery. Young people face the same risk of negative outcomes from heart attacks as older individuals.

Reading Test Results Incorrectly

Inexperienced medical providers may incorrectly read test results, which can cause a misdiagnosis. Experienced cardiologists must read test results, in order to correctly diagnose a heart attack.

However, the most effective way for a physician to correctly diagnose a heart attack is by reviewing the patient's risk factors, symptoms, and by performing tests.

Incorrectly Diagnosing the Patient with Another Issue

Heart attacks are often misdiagnosed as other issues, such as anxiety, acid reflux, or heartburn. These conditions share symptoms, such as chest pain and shortness of breath, which mimics a heart attack. So, if the patient isn't at a high risk for having a heart attack, then the physician may not order tests, and diagnose them with a different condition.

This creates a major issue problem because if the patient is diagnosed with a non life-threatening condition then they’ll likely be sent home without proper treatment.

Failing to Recognize Atypical Symptoms

Many patients do not experience the classic heart attack symptoms. So, when a patient shows uncommon symptoms during a heart attack, it is difficult to diagnose them based solely on symptoms. Some atypical symptoms of a heart attack include muscle pain, indigestion, malaise, and nausea.

Physicians must be aware of the unusual symptoms to avoid dismissing a heart attack based on symptoms alone.

Women Showing Atypical Symptoms

Certain women do not experience the normal heart attack symptoms, like agonizing chest pain and shortness of breath. Instead, they experience more mild symptoms that aren’t usually linked to a heart attack.
Symptoms that women may experience, instead of the normal heart attack symptoms, include:

  1. Dizziness
  2. Sweating
  3. Unusual fatigue
  4. Pain in one or both arms
  5. Vomiting

Unfortunately, these uncommon symptoms cause women to be misdiagnosed more frequently than men. In fact, researchers estimate that women are 50% more likely to be initially misdiagnosed while having a heart attack.

What are the Potential Consequences of a Misdiagnosed Heart Attack?

When a physician fails to properly diagnose and treat their patient, it can lead to serious consequences to their physical and mental well-being.

Research has shown that delayed treatment of a heart attack can lead to heart muscle damage, heart failure, and even death. Due to the damage done to the heart muscle, the individual may not be able to do the same activities they once loved.

Medical malpractice can also have an emotional impact on the patient. Victims of medical malpractice are at risk to develop mental health disorders, such as extreme anxiety, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Medical malpractice can also cause the individual to be reluctant or scared to trust healthcare professionals in the future.

Heart Attack Misdiagnosis Lawsuit

Recently, we represented a client who was misdiagnosed while having a heart attack. ​​Our client experienced chest pain, shortness of breath, and numbness in his arm- all the tell-tale signs of a heart attack. He went to the nearest emergency room to be seen by a doctor.

The doctor he ended up seeing in the emergency room was not an emergency medical doctor. Instead, she was a family practice doctor, and there were no cardiologists on staff.

Even though our client had all of the symptoms of a heart attack, the doctor insisted that he was experiencing heartburn or indigestion.

Multiple electrocardiograms (EKG) were taken- all of which showed that he was having a heart attack. But, the doctor insisted that the EKG was wrong and was not showing a heart attack. Throughout our client’s 5.5 hours in the hospital, he continued to experience extreme chest pain.

Upon performing another EKG, it showed that our client had suffered permanent heart damage. He was then transferred to another hospital to be treated.

Fortunately, our client survived but he is now in heart failure and will need a heart transplant within the next few years.

We settled with the parties at fault for a confidential amount in late 2023.

Contact the Medical Malpractice Attorneys at The Mellino Law Firm

If you or a loved one suffered severe injuries due to a misdiagnosed heart attack, you may be able to file a misdiagnosis lawsuit against the medical provider(s). In medical malpractice cases, victims can file a claim if there is evidence that the medical provider’s negligence caused the injury. This could include not ordering necessary tests or failing to read the test results correctly.

If you have a potential misdiagnosis case, contact our Cleveland medical malpractice attorneys by dialing (440) 333-3800.