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Failure to Diagnose Heart Attack

Most people know that chest pain and shortness of breath may mean a heart attack, but a heart attack doesn’t always look the way we see them on TV or in movies. Sometimes a heart attack might feel like a bad case of heartburn, or have other symptoms besides a person clutching at the sudden pain in his or her arm. We may know that something is wrong, but not suspect heart attack. We depend upon medical professionals to know what we don’t, to make the right diagnosis, and to make sure we get life-saving treatment in time.

When a doctor fails to diagnose a heart attack, the results can be deadly. Heart attack remains one of the leading causes of death among adults in the United States. If not fatal, a heart attack can seriously damage or weaken the heart muscle and lead to permanent disability.

If you’ve suffered a heart attack that a doctor negligently or recklessly failed to diagnose, you may have a claim for medical malpractice. An experienced Chicago personal injury attorney can evaluate your situation and talk to you about your options for a claim. If you’re successful in a malpractice claim, you may be able to recover compensation that includes payment of your medical bills, payment of lost wages, and payment for your pain and suffering.

What Happens in a Heart Attack?

A heart attack, known medically is a myocardial infarction, typically happens when something blocks one of the arteries that brings blood to your heart. The most common cause is a blood clot that blocks the flow of blood. Alternatively, cholesterol build-up in your arteries forms a hard substance called plaque that can block the flow of blood through your arteries. When blood flow to your heart is stopped, your heart muscle starts to die from the oxygen starvation.

Symptoms of a Heart Attack

According to the National Institutes of Health, common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain that spreads to your arms, shoulder, neck, teeth, jaw, abdomen, or back. Pain can be squeezing, feel like indigestion, or like a weight or pressure on your chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Profuse sweating
  • Cough
  • Fainting
  • Feeling light-headed or dizzy
  • Feeling anxious
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Feeling like your heart is beating too fast or is beating irregularly

However, not everyone experiences a heart attack in the same way. Sometimes women, the elderly, or people with chronic health conditions such as diabetes may have what is known as a “silent” heart attack with unusual symptoms or no symptoms. Symptoms among these groups might include feeling tired or weak and short of breath.

How Heart Attacks are Diagnosed

Because symptoms can vary, and in some people don’t look like typical heart attack symptoms, it’s important for doctors and other health care professionals who might treat someone with a heart attack to recognize the more unusual symptoms as a potential heart attack and to order the right tests to diagnose a heart attack.

Diagnosing a heart attack often starts with a physical examination that includes listening to the heart and lungs for abnormal sounds, checking the pulse to see if it is fast or erratic, and checking the patient’s blood pressure.

Tests performed to diagnose a heart attack may include:

  • Electrocardiogram, commonly known as an ECG, to check for damage to the heart
  • Blood test to determine if heart tissue is damaged
  • Coronary angiography using dye and x-rays to look at how blood is flowing through the heart

If a health provider fails to order these tests when you have symptoms of a heart attack, or if test results are misread, that may be negligence on the part of the provider and give rise to a possible medical malpractice claim.

Consequences of Failure to Diagnose a Heart Attack

Because the heart muscle starts to die when you have a heart attack, immediate diagnosis and treatment is critical. When a medical professional fails to diagnose your heart attack, your heart may be weakened or permanently damaged, resulting in disability and an inability to work or perform normal tasks. You may go into heart failure. Heart attacks often are fatal if intervention doesn’t come in time.