Misdiagnosed Heart Attacks Cause Deaths

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Almost half a million Americans will die each year of a heart attack, while thousands more will experience a non-fatal heart attack.  Coronary heart disease is considered to be the leading cause of death in the United States.  Despite the known risks of heart disease, heart attacks often go undiagnosed.  Doctors believe that the number of people who die from undiagnosed heart attacks is high.

There have been numerous medical advancements over the years, including advances in diagnostics and refinement of medical protocols. However, heart attacks are frequently missed and as a result, many patients die when their deaths could have been prevented.  According to the New England Journal of Medicine, one in 50 heart attack victims are mistakenly sent home by emergency room doctors.  Other studies have been conducted that reflect an even higher rate.

A USA Today article quoted Joseph Ornato, professor and chairman of the Department of Emergency Medicine at Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center in Richmond as saying, “Even in the best of hands, you can easily miss cases.  This is a very perilous area.”  Ornato has researched the emergency care of heart attacks.

When someone’s death is caused by an undiagnosed heart attack, the surviving family members are often left wondering what could have been done. In most cases involving missed heart attacks, further actions could have been taken to save the patients, which is why the majority of undiagnosed heart attack cases stem from errors in diagnosis.  Undiagnosed heart attacks make up the biggest percentage of malpractice settlements, as compared to other medical conditions.   Over the last ten years, the median jury verdict for heart attack malpractice lawsuits has been $941,000.  The highest settlement occurred in an Illinois case in 1997, which was a verdict for $9 million.

It is important to recognize the warning signs of a heart attack, to help prevent misdiagnosis.  The American Heart Association lists the following symptoms of a heart attack that should prompt immediate medical attention.

  • Chest discomfort: Heart attacks most often involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts for more than a few minutes or goes away, but comes back.  The discomfort can come in the form of pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
  • Pain or discomfort in the upper body: Heart attack victims sometimes feel pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  • Shortness of breath: This symptom can come with or without chest discomfort.
  • Additional symptoms: Other warning signs of a heart attack include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.

If you or a loved one has been the victim of a misdiagnosed heart attack, contact the Kentucky medical malpractice attorneys at Gray and White Law at 1-502-210-8942 or 1-888-450-4456.