More than 700,000 Americans suffer heart attacks every year, according
to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. An astounding 1 in
50 are misdiagnosed, often resulting in patients being sent home from
the emergency room.
For female patients, the risk is particularly high because the symptoms
of a heart attack are much different in women. In many cases, they mirror
much more benign ailments, such as the flu or anxiety. Common complaints
include shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting, and back or jaw pain.
As explained by Dr. David A. Meyerson, MD, JD, Director of Cardiology Consultation
Services, Johns Hopkins, “with regard to heart attack and heart
disease women do present differently from men … Men will often
feel that terrible essential chest pain or pressure, with pressure and
pain going through to the jaw, perhaps to the back, perhaps to the left
arm, shortness of breath, dizziness, a whole constellation of things.
Women sometimes have less warning. Their symptoms are not quite as dramatic…[They]
may complain about profound fatigue or weakness… chest pressure…or
shortness of breath.”
As confirmed by recent studies, the difference in symptoms is directly
tied to delays in treatment. For instance, researchers at McGill University
in Montreal found that male patients received faster access to electrocardiograms
(ECGs) to check heart rhythms and fibrinolysis to prevent blood clots
than their female counterparts. As
Business Insider reports, it took 15 minutes and 28 minutes, respectively, for men to be given
ECGs or fibrinolysis from the time they arrived at the ER. By comparison,
women waited 21 minutes and 36 minutes.
As San Diego medical malpractice lawyers, the high rates of misdiagnosis
are concerning, particularly given that early intervention can prevent
or limit damage to the heart muscle and frequently save the patient’s life.