If a doctor misdiagnosed your — or a loved one’s — heart attack, attorney Chris Mellino welcomes you to contact our Cleveland office with any questions you may have.
Heart Attack Statistics
“Every year about 715,000 Americans have a heart attack,” the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) reported August 28, 2013. According to the Heart Foundation, that number is closer to 920,000.
Women’s Heart Foundation has estimated that 435,000 women suffer a heart attack each year and 267,000 die from one. “[P]hysicians are slower to recognize the presence of heart attacks in women because ‘characteristic’ patterns of chest pain and EKG changes are less frequently present,” womensheart.org stated.
How Often Are Heart Attacks Misdiagnosed?
Women under age 55 are misdiagnosed seven times as often as men, according to research cited in heart attack survivor Carolyn Thomas’s blog, Heart Sisters. That same New England Journal of Medicine study revealed that, out of 10,000 emergency room patients presenting with chest pain and other symptoms, 1 in 50 were misdiagnosed and discharged.
What Symptoms Do Doctors Overlook?
Even though Carolyn Thomas went to the emergency room with the heart attack symptoms you always hear about — chest pain, nausea, sweating, and left arm pain — the ER doctor dismissed them as GERD, or acid reflux. When her pain went away and came back over the next several days, she made an appointment to see her regular doctor, but, she told the Wall Street Journal, “I knew it couldn’t be my heart, because this guy with an MD just told me it wasn’t.” As it turns out, one artery was 99 percent blocked, and she suffered two heart attacks on a plane to visit her mother and two more on the way home.
Mid-2011, blogger Jillita Horton wrote that she’d taken her mother to the emergency room with nausea and breathing problems, which “are classic symptoms of an imminent heart attack,” but she, too, was diagnosed as having GERD, given a prescription, and sent home. Two days later, she underwent a quintuple bypass.
“The stereotypical ‘Hollywood heart attack,’ clutching the chest in agony, is only one scenario,” WSJ reported April 24, 2012. “The feeling in the chest may be more squeezing, tightening, or heavy pressure. It may radiate down the left arm or up to the jaw or around the back between the shoulder blades, particularly in women. One study found that 71 percent of women experience flulike symptoms with no chest pain at all.”
How Does a Doctor Misdiagnose a Heart Attack?
In 2011, Time and other sources reported that doctors are performing “defensive medicine” to prevent medical malpractice lawsuits. In fact, Fierce Pharma stated, “More than 50 percent of roughly 1,800 ER doctors said the main reason they order the number of tests they do is fear of being sued.” So why are so many heart attacks misdiagnosed?
“Specialists in particular, are known to demonstrate unwarranted clinical certainty,” Dr. Jerome Groopman wrote in How Doctors Think. “They have trained for so long that they begin too easily to rely on their vast knowledge and overlook the variability in human biology.” In other words, they forget that everybody — as in, every body — is different.
Still, Dr. Carson Liu told Jillita Horton, chest pain and pressure are red flags that should never be dismissed as anything until appropriate tests have been run. In Horton’s mother’s case, ER doctors didn’t bother to determine whether she was suffering from coronary blockage.
“My mother wasn’t even given a CT angiogram in that first visit, despite her elderly status and report of chest pains over the past several weeks,” Horton wrote. “The CT angiogram has been shown to be a highly effective tool at detecting patients at high risk for imminent heart attacks.”
According to Dr. Liu, the doctor who misdiagnosed Horton’s mother’s heart attack as GERD should have given her lidocaine to see if that resolved the problem.
What If the Doctor Did Run Tests to Rule Out a Heart Attack?
In 2006, a 74-year-old grandfather was rushed to the hospital by ambulance at 5 a.m. after his wife noticed him sitting upright in bed, sweating and having difficulty breathing.
“I thought he was having a heart attack,” she told USA Today.
After giving James Pettry oxygen and aspirin and then performing an electrocardiogram (ECG), the paramedic agreed with her diagnosis. Emergency room doctor Edward Seall did not. After performing two ECGs, an X-ray, a computed tomography (CT) scan, and blood tests, Seall gave his patient an Ativan for anxiety and sent him home with instructions to follow up with his family doctor or a cardiologist in the next few days. Pettry died the next morning.
“Through his attorney, … Seall stands by his diagnosis,” USA Today stated. But Pettry’s wife, considering a lawsuit, thought more should have been done.
“Experts say she is right,” USA Today stated. According to one director of cardiology, “A 74-year-old is already a high-risk candidate. Then, having symptoms, that patient deserves a full evaluation in the hospital. No question. If he is admitted and treated, the risk of sudden death is dramatically reduced.”
Apparently, juries believe more should be done in these cases, too. According to that October 25, 2006, article, “heart attack misdiagnosis … brings the highest malpractice payout of all conditions. The overwhelming majority of malpractice settlements for heart attacks come from errors in diagnosis.”
Speak with Heart Attack Misdiagnosis Attorney Chris Mellino
To determine whether you have a viable heart attack misdiagnosis lawsuit, attorney Chris Mellino welcomes you to contact our Cleveland office for a free consultation and to learn about similar cases we have handled.