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Atrial Fibrillation (AFib)

Atrial fibrillation (also called AFib or AF) is a quivering or irregular heartbeat (arrhythmia) that can lead to blood clots, stroke, heart failure, and other heart-related complications. At least 2.7 million Americans are currently living with AFib. Heart arrhythmia happens if the electrical impulses coordinating your heartbeat are adversely impacted such that your heart beats irregularly, too quickly, or too slowly. Sometimes arrhythmia is experienced as a racing heart. To diagnose a heart arrhythmia, doctors are supposed to review your symptoms and medical history. They may ask about conditions that trigger arrhythmia. They should conduct a physical exam and may also perform heart monitoring tests.

AFib is the most common type of irregular heartbeat that often causes the heart to beat too quickly. One of the biggest concerns with AFib is the risk of stroke. People with AFib have approximately 5 times greater risk of stroke than those who do not have AFib. It is estimated that by 2030, approximately 12 million people in the U.S. will have AFib. If your doctor failed to diagnose, misdiagnosed, or failed to provide you with appropriate care for AFib and you were injured as a result, you can speak with a seasoned medical malpractice lawyer at DeFrancisco & Falgiatano about whether you have a case.

During a normal heartbeat, the upper and lower chambers of the heart work together to pump blood to the rest of the body. The heartbeat seems to quiver erratically. The upper chambers of the heart do not produce an effective, regular contraction, but contract irregularly. When the contraction fails, it’s like wringing out a sponge. Without a good squeeze, water will still be left in the sponge. In the same way, when a heart contraction is either too fast or too uneven, it doesn’t completely squeeze the blood from the atria into the next chamber leaving blood to pool in the heart chamber. Blood that is not completely pumped out of the heart chamber can remain and may pool there which means the risks of clotting go up. Clots can travel and cause blockages. If a blood clot forms in the heart chamber, it can be pumped out of the heart to the brain, blocking off the blood supply to an artery in the brain, and causing a stroke. This type of stroke is called an embolic stroke or some doctors call it a cardioembolic stroke. Strokes related to AFib are often more severe compared to strokes with other underlying causes. A stroke deprives your brain of oxygen which can lead to permanent damage and even death.

AFib can lead to heart failure which means the heart isn’t pumping enough blood to meet the body's needs because the heart is beating so fast that it never properly fills up with blood to pump out to the body. When AFib causes heart failure, fluid in the lungs can cause fatigue and shortness of breath. Heart failure occurs when your heart can no longer function properly. AFib can wear down the heart muscle, as the ventricles in the lower chambers attempt to work harder to make up for the lack of blood flow in the upper chambers. In people with AFib, heart failure develops over time. It’s not a sudden occurrence like a heart attack or stroke might be. Sometimes the cause of AFib is unknown. Other times, it is the result of damage to the heart's electrical system from other conditions, such as longstanding, uncontrolled high blood pressure or coronary artery disease. AFib is also the most common complication after heart surgery.

There are many reasons why AFib is misdiagnosed. Many of these reasons are due to the reckless, careless, and negligent care of a healthcare provider. Damage from AFib can take years to form which means many missed opportunities to timely and aggressively treat AFib. Unfortunately, many healthcare providers create multiple errors and mistakes when treating patients who may have AFib which results in serious personal injuries.

The most common causes of misdiagnosing AFib include the following:

  • Failing to listen to patient complaints;
  • Failing to refer the patient to a specialist;
  • Ordering the wrong diagnostic tests;
  • Misdiagnosing AFib as another condition;
  • Delaying in treating AFib;
  • Misinterpreting test results;
  • Healthcare provider inexperience;
  • Treating AFib incorrectly and without the right medical care;
  • Medications errors;
  • Mixing up the patient; and
  • Other common causes.

Recognizing the signs of AFib is not simply the responsibility of specialized cardiologists. Primary care doctors of older patients should be on high alert for AFib, especially for those patients with other risk factors that contribute to developing the heart condition. Failing to carefully examine a patient’s history may lead to misdiagnosis. Likewise, failing to test or refer an elderly patient with AFib symptoms to a cardiologist may qualify as negligence causing delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis.

Episodes of AFib may come and go, or they may be persistent. Although AFib itself usually isn't life-threatening, it's a serious medical condition that requires proper treatment to prevent stroke. Treatment for AFib may include medications, therapy to reset the heart rhythm, and catheter procedures to block faulty heart signals.

If you were harmed by a doctor’s failure to diagnose and treat atrial fibrillation, you can discuss your situation with a knowledgeable medical malpractice lawyer. DeFrancisco & Falgiatano represents patients harmed by medical malpractice in Syracuse, Rochester, and throughout Upstate New York, including in areas such as Rochester, Canandaigua, Binghamton, Cooperstown, Ithaca, Auburn, Herkimer, Elmira, Wampsville, Lyons, Utica, Lowville, Oswego, Oneida, and Watertown. Please call us at 833-200-2000 or contact us via our online form.

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