As strange as it may sound, there are situations where trained medical providers may misinterpret or misdiagnose the signs of a heart attack. A heart attack occurs when the supply of blood to the cardiac muscle is obstructed. This obstruction, known as a myocardial infarction, leads to impaired cellular respiration. If left untreated the heart cells that have been deprived of oxygen due to an infarction will begin to die which may lead to a dysrhythmia and eventually a full cardiac arrest. Early detection is essential for ensuring effective treatment and in instances where a doctor or other healthcare provider fails to diagnose a heart attack, the rate of survival and chance for a full recovery can both decline dramatically.
Causes Behind a Misdiagnosis
While heart attacks and other forms are heart disease are the number one leading cause of death among adults, there are still situations where a trained professional may fail to make an accurate diagnosis. The most telling symptom of a heart attack, chest pain, is absent in approximately one third of all cases. Some patients may even suffer a heart attack without experiencing or noticing any symptoms at all which can make it far more difficult for a healthcare provider to initiate treatment.
There are also situations where the symptoms that a patient presents with are mistakenly attributed to other illnesses or medical conditions. Respiratory distress and acute anxiety are common symptoms that may present during an infarction or for something far more mundane, like a panic attack. Even a trained emergency department doctor can miss the signs of a heart attack. Physicians who fail to order an electrocardiogram, blood work or other diagnostic procedures that will allow for either an accurate diagnosis to be made or to rule out the chance of a heart attack entirely may be guilty of malpractice.
Obtaining a Proper Diagnosis
Heart attack symptoms, like profuse sweating and nausea can masquerade as food poisoning, indigestion or other minor stomach ailments. In order to make and confirm an accurate diagnosis, patients must undergo a battery of tests and procedures. Physicians can easily miss the signs that their patients is suffering from an infarction due to an improper diagnosis. Legal action is often required in order to ascertain whether or not a healthcare provider took adequate and appropriate action in order to properly care for their patients. The efforts and resources of an experienced attorney may be crucial when it comes to investigating what medical interventions where provided or to ensure that the proper steps were taken in order to arrive at a correct diagnosis.
Why Early Treatment is Essential
Obstructions may occur at different points within the heart’s vasculature. Those that may occlude blood flow to a smaller portion of the heart are more likely to be survivable, although even a minor blockage that may only result in a small amount of damage done to heart tissue can still cause a dysrhythmia which may become life-threatening. Detecting the problem early ensures that efforts to remove or alleviate the blockage are more likely to succeed. Patients who are misdiagnosed may not obtain proper treatment for hours or even days after an obstruction has occurred, at which point the damage is more likely to be irreversible.
Failure to identify the signs and symptoms of a heart attack can drastically reduce the impact of anticoagulant medications, placement of a coronary stent or other efforts to restore blood flow to the obstructed areas of the heart. The more time that passes, the greater the damage to cardiac cells and the higher the likelihood that the patient will experience more serious long-term repercussions or experience a full cardiac arrest. When it comes to treating a heart attack, every minute counts.
What to Do Following a Misdiagnosed Heart Attack
Taking action after you or a loved one has suffered from a heart attack that was not properly identified and treated can be very important. While the loss of a loved one is always difficult, dealing with a premature death that may be the result of medical malpractice is often much worse. Even those who survive a heart attack after being denied proper treatment due to a misdiagnosis may experience loss of function or increased risk of future complications due to the damage their heart may have sustained.
If you or someone close to you has recently suffered a heart attack that was not properly identified or promptly treated, your next step should be to contact a personal injury lawyer. Obtaining a formal legal consultation can provide you with the chance to share your story, learn more about your legal options and to decide how best to move forwards with your efforts.