Around 720,000 people in the United States suffer an acute myocardial infarction (or heart attack) every year. What's more, 205,000 of these people have suffered from the problem before. Perhaps more seriously, doctors and health professionals sometimes fail to accurately diagnose the issue soon enough to make sure the patient gets the treatment he or she needs, which can lead to disastrous consequences. Learn more about the steps health professionals should take to diagnose a heart attack, and find out what you can do if something goes wrong.
Symptoms of the condition
Acute myocardial infarction occurs when something cuts off the blood supply to the heart. Most commonly, the problem occurs when there is a build-up of plaque in one of the vital coronary arteries. This plaque comprises fat, cholesterol and other waste products that can build up as a result of dietary problems, a lack of exercise or another underlying medical condition.
The symptoms of a heart attack can vary between patients, although certain signs are common. These include pressure or tightness in the chest, sweating, nausea, shortness of breath and dizziness. The severity of these symptoms can also vary considerably, and some people don't immediately realize they have a serious problem because the side effects are relatively mild.
While chest pain is the most common symptom in men and women, female patients are at higher risk of certain side effects. For example, women are more likely to experience jaw pain than their male counterparts. Nonetheless, for both sexes, it's not always easy to spot the signs of a heart attack because you can easily mistake the symptoms for something else.
Common reasons for misdiagnosis
There are many reasons why doctors and health professionals can fail to accurately diagnose the symptoms of a heart attack, but some situations are more common than others.
Health professionals sometimes mistake the symptoms of a heart attack for:
Gastrointestinal problems. The chest pain of a heart attack can sometimes feel like indigestion.
Muscular injuries. The tenderness and chest pain of a heart attack can also resemble the symptoms you may suffer following a musculoskeletal injury.
Health professionals can also misdiagnose the problem in younger patients because they mistakenly assume that the patient simply isn't old enough to suffer a heart attack. Nonetheless, while heart attacks are more common in older patients, the condition can still occur in younger patients. To complicate matters further, young people don't always suffer the same symptoms. For example, one study found that one in five women under 55 don't experience any chest pain during an attack.
To diagnose a heart attack, doctors will not normally rely on a physical examination alone. An ECG examination can help the doctor spot cardiac anomalies, while imaging tests can detect problems like a regional wall motion abnormality.
Filing a medical malpractice lawsuit
If a doctor or other health professional misdiagnoses a heart attack (or diagnoses the problem too late), you may decide to file a medical malpractice lawsuit. This type of lawsuit allows you to claim compensation for the cost of extra medical expenses, as well as the pain and suffering that your injury causes.
As part of such a lawsuit, you and your attorney must show that:
There was a doctor–patient relationship.
The doctor was in some way negligent.
The negligence caused your injury.
The injury led to specific damages.
For misdiagnosis cases, it is often hardest to prove the second point, as there are several factors that can influence a court's decision. Misdiagnosis alone is not enough to prove negligence, as even a competent doctor can fail to accurately spot the signs of a condition in certain situations. As such, you must prove that the doctor failed to act in a way that another qualified health professional would have acted in similar circumstances. To meet this aim, your attorney will probably ask an expert to offer evidence. He or she can compare the steps taken by the defendant against clinical guidelines and best practice and highlight any anomalies.
If a doctor fails to accurately diagnose a heart attack, a medical malpractice lawsuit can help you claim compensation for your injuries. Talk to an experienced malpractice attorney for more information and advice. Contact a firm like Snyder & Wenner, P.C. to get started.