Tightness in the chest. Shortness of breath.
These are just a couple of the terrifying signs of a heart attack – symptoms that should not be ignored and should prompt someone to seek immediate medical attention.
When a patient goes to the emergency room with heart attack symptoms, it is reasonable to expect that the doctor will perform necessary tests to determine if a heart attack has occurred or is occurring.
Unfortunately, some heart attacks are not accurately diagnosed. Some doctors fail to recognize signs of a heart attack or order necessary tests. Sometimes, doctors ignore a patient’s risk factors. Other times, a doctor may completely misdiagnose a heart attack.
The results can be tragic.
When a doctor fails to diagnose a heart attack and the patient suffers or dies, the individual or family can pursue legal action. In order for the incident to be considered malpractice, it must be shown that the doctor violated the accepted standard of care.
Typically, a doctor will run a battery of tests to determine if a patient is, indeed, having a heart attack. In addition to checking blood pressure, pulse and temperature, the following tests may be administered:
Electrocardiogram (EKG): An EKG tests the electrical activity of the heart via electrodes that are attached to the skin. This is typically the first test run when a patient is experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.
Blood tests: Doctors may test blood for certain enzymes that may leak into the bloodstream when the heart is damaged.
X-ray: A chest x-ray may be done to check for fluid in the lungs, an enlarged heart or blood vessel abnormalities.
Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram uses sound waves to display images of the heart. This test can reveal damage to the heart and determine whether the heart is pumping normally.
Angiogram: In this test, liquid dye is injected into the patient’s arteries, which makes the arteries visible on x-rays or other tests. This test can reveal blockages in the heart.
Stress tests: Stress tests typically involve physical exertion to raise the heart rate, after which the heart and blood vessel functionality will be reviewed. A stress test may be administered in the weeks after a heart attack.
Cardiac CT scan: A cardiac CT scan is an imaging test that takes pictures of the heart and can reveal blockages or calcium buildups in the arteries.
MRI: An MRI uses a powerful magnetic field to produce images of the heart and surrounding blood vessels.
Under normal circumstances, treatment would be immediately administered. But when a heart attack goes undiagnosed or is misdiagnosed, the patient can suffer grave, life-altering injuries or die. Here are some examples of negligence by a doctor:
The doctor may misdiagnose a heart attack because the patient is “too young” or “seemed healthy”
The doctor may fail to consider the patient’s medical history
The doctor may make a mistake when reading test results
The doctor may fail to refer the patient to a specialist
When a patient comes in with symptoms such as chest pain, dizziness, shortness of breath, sweating, nausea or other common symptoms of a heart attack, it is imperative to order the right tests to determine if the patient is suffering a heart attack, and to immediately administer treatment. When a doctor misdiagnoses the patient – with heartburn, anxiety or bronchitis, for example – treatment may be delayed, and the patient could die.
Victims and surviving family members may be eligible for compensation after a heart attack has gone undiagnosed or has been misdiagnosed. It is advisable to work with an attorney to help establish that the doctor deviated from the established standard of care.