Heart Attack Misdiagnosis and Delayed Diagnosis

This man is clutching his chest and while it looks as if he is having a Heart Attack it may be misdiagnosed and he will die.

Coronary heart disease is the leading cause of death for both women and men in the United States. A heart attack, technically referred to as an acute myocardial infarction (AMI), requires prompt diagnosis and treatment to reduce the risk of serious medical complications or death.

About 1.5 million heart attacks occur in the United States each year, and studies show that about 11,000 cases are not properly diagnosed, resulting in unnecessary deaths. Medical negligence may be responsible for missed or delayed diagnoses of heart attacks in some situations. Cases involving the negligent failure to make a timely and accurate diagnosis of a heart attack are common in medical malpractice litigation.

The medical malpractice lawyers at Tinker Law Firm, PLLC can help if you believe that you or a family member was harmed by a delayed or missed diagnosis of a heart attack. Our experienced medical error attorneys can discuss your case in a free initial consultation. We’ll let you know how victims of medical misdiagnosis can protect their rights under Washington law. Call us today or fill out our online contact form for a free claim evaluation.

Who could be responsible for a heart attack misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis?

Many people who experience chest pain or other classic symptoms of a heart attack seek help in a hospital emergency room. Heart attack patients who have atypical symptoms may also go to the ER, unaware that their symptoms may be caused by a cardiac problem.

There are many medical professionals in the ER who could make a negligent error and fail to diagnose a heart attack in a timely fashion. Some of these health care providers include:

  • Emergency room physicians
  • Triage nurses
  • Consulting cardiologists
  • Interns and medical students
  • Consulting physicians

Studies have shown that some lower-volume emergency rooms may have a higher rate of heart attack misdiagnosis than ERs that treat many patients. The reason may be that smaller ERs have less experience with diagnosing heart attacks and have fewer resources to make an accurate diagnosis.

Medical professionals in settings other than the ER could also make a negligent diagnosis error. Examples of other health care providers who could be responsible for a heart attack misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis include:

  • Family doctors
  • General practitioners
  • Doctors at urgent care centers
  • Physician assistants
  • Lab technicians and other diagnostic professionals.

Why do heart attack victims suffer from negligent or delayed diagnoses?

Symptoms that are different from the ones typically associated with heart attacks are a major factor. Studies have shown that female patients face a particularly high risk of having a heart attack misdiagnosed due to the atypical symptoms that women often present. These atypical symptoms include:

  • Fatigue
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Shortness of breath
  • Back pain
  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Pain that doesn’t radiate
  • Heaviness of arms
  • Light-headedness
  • Epigastric burning
  • Feeling flushed

These are different from the symptoms men often experience, such as headache and pain in the chest, jaw, shoulder, arm, neck, and between the shoulder blades. Female heart attack patients may be misdiagnosed with psychiatric or emotional problems, anxiety, musculoskeletal problems, or indigestion. Instead of receiving potentially life-saving treatments such as an emergency cardiology consult, nitroglycerin, aspirin, heparin, and thrombolytic agents, women may be more likely to receive antianxiety drugs or painkillers.

Studies have also shown that non-whites may be more likely to suffer a heart attack misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. This may be partly explained by the younger age of many non-white heart attack patients. In one study, African-American heart attack victims were on average nearly 10 years younger than white patients. Regardless of race, medical professionals may be less likely to suspect a heart attack in a younger patient.

Elderly heart attack victims are also at risk of a misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis. Older patients sometimes present with atypical symptoms, and many older patients also have other chronic illnesses that may make it more difficult to distinguish a heart attack.

Even if an ER doctor or other medical professional believes that a patient may be having a heart attack, negligent errors in diagnostic testing could thwart a timely and accurate diagnosis.

What are the potential results of a heart attack misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis?

Failure to make a timely and accurate diagnosis of a heart attack can have serious consequences for the patient. Studies show that missed or delayed heart attack diagnoses are associated with adverse medical outcomes, including death. One study shows that the risk of death roughly doubles if a heart attack is not appropriately diagnosed.

Patients who survive an undiagnosed heart attack or a delayed diagnosis frequently develop more complications than patients who receive a correct diagnosis. A study revealed that nearly three-quarters of patients were readmitted to the hospital after a heart attack was misdiagnosed, while the readmission rate was only 17 percent for those who were properly diagnosed and initially hospitalized for heart attack treatment.

How can I find out if my case involved either a negligent misdiagnosis or a delayed diagnosis of a heart attack?

A patient or the patient’s family will probably have lots of questions and concerns if it appears that a heart attack was not diagnosed, was misdiagnosed, or was diagnosed too late. It is natural to ask whether medical providers could have caught the heart attack earlier and whether that might have saved the patient’s life or improved the patient’s heart health.

The attorneys at Tinker Law Firm, PLLC are experienced in reviewing cases that involve heart attack misdiagnosis or delays in making a proper diagnosis. Our lawyers work with doctors, nurses, and other medical experts to review medical records for indicators of negligent errors in the process of diagnosing a patient who had a serious coronary condition. To talk to our team about your situation, call us today or fill out our online contact form for a free claim evaluation.