Heart Attack Misdiagnosis

Heart Attack Misdiagnosis or Failure to Diagnose

Much like a stroke, a heart attack requires immediate medical attention. Heart attacks often happen when blood clots suddenly form on top of plaque and obstruct the flow of blood to the heart. More than a million Americans have heart attacks annually. Heart attacks are also known as myocardial infarctions – “myo” meaning muscle, “cardial” meaning heart, and “infarction” meaning death of tissue due to lack of blood flow. Heart tissue death can cause long lasting damage to your heart muscle, which is why immediate, appropriate treatment is critical. Heart attacks don’t always come with the usual symptoms of chest pain and tightening of the left arm, which can be why they are often left undiagnosed or misdiagnosed.

What Causes a Heart Attack?

There are a variety of ways in which a heart attack can be caused. One common cause is coronary artery disease. Your heart requires a constant supply of oxygen-rich blood to function properly and maintain muscle tissue. The coronary arteries supply the heart with blood, but if the patient has coronary artery disease, their arteries may become narrow keeping blood from reaching the heart as it should. When the blood supply is blocked, a heart attack occurs.

Another common way blood flow to the heart can be blocked – which causes a heart attack – is through the formation of plaque deposits in your arteries. Plaque deposits are composed of fats, calcium, proteins, and other cells that build up and create a hard shell. If a plaque deposit ruptures, blood platelets will come to the area and form a blood clot around the plaque. This can block the artery and prevent blood from providing oxygen to the heart.

While these are not the only causes, they are the most common. Spasms in the coronary artery are a less common heart attack cause. These spasms cause the artery to contract and can cut off the blood supply to the heart muscle quickly. It can happen even at rest and/or if you do not have coronary artery disease.

What are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

Patients who are having a heart attack can experience a wide array of symptoms. Some patients will experience many symptoms, and others will only experience a few.

Some of the most common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Pain in the chest that is crushing, squeezing, or burning pain, in addition to pressure or feeling of fullness
  • Discomfort or pain from the chest radiating to the neck, shoulders, one or both arms, or even the jaw
  • Aches that lasts for at least a few minutes and may reduce in intensity and return
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness and/or fainting
  • Nausea, heartburn (acid reflux), or upset stomach
  • Sweating, “cold sweats,” or feeling chilly
  • A weak, yet fast pulse
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cold or clammy skin
  • Gray color in the face
  • Fatigue

And these are just the standard symptoms. Some patients experience none of these symptoms when having a heart attack, a condition called silent ischemia.

Women often experience different heart attack symptoms than men, which is one of the reasons more women are misdiagnosed. Instead of chest pain, female patients may experience pain in the upper abdomen, jaw, back, or neck, headaches, and heartburn, in addition to others like fatigue or shortness of breath.

How Do Doctors Diagnose Heart Attacks?

Many patients come to the ER each year with the symptoms above, but are sent home without the proper diagnosis. This especially includes women who don’t present with typical heart attack symptoms and those thought of as too young to have this type of adverse health event. Heart attacks can only be diagnosed with special tests like an EKG, heart imaging, blood work, or a thorough exam by a cardiologist. If a heart attack goes misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, it is likely to occur again, and the consequences can be severe for patients. They can suffer permanent heart damage, brain damage, and even death.

The tests a doctor orders will be critical to properly diagnosing a heart attack. An electrocardiogram, known as an EKG, can show where the heart has been damaged and how severe the damage is. This test can also monitor your heart rate and look for irregular heart rhythm. An echocardiogram is an imaging test that can be used during a heart attack and after to show how the heart is pumping and if there are any areas to which blood is not pumping. This test can also locate any tissue injuries that happened during the heart attack. The doctors should also perform a variety of blood tests to determine the level of cardiac enzymes and tropins in the blood. This can be an indicator of heart muscle damage. If a doctor chooses not to run one of these tests, they could be putting their patient at risk by failing to review all applicable information available to diagnose a heart attack properly.

Heart Attack Misdiagnosis Attorneys

Having a heart attack is a very scary and stressful experience. You have put your faith in the doctor treating you. If you or someone you know in the Philadelphia area had a heart attack and was not timely diagnosed, you have legal options. The Philadelphia heart attack misdiagnosis attorneys at Lopez McHugh LLP can explain your legal options and pursue compensation on your behalf. Contact us today to schedule a free consultation to discuss your case.


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