Damages from Failure to Diagnose a Heart Attack
When you have a heart attack, blood flow to a part of your heart stops or drops significantly, causing injury or death to that part of your heart muscle. When a section of your heart is unable to pump due to a lack of blood flow, the pumping sequence for your entire heart is disrupted. This reduces or even stops blood flow to the rest of your body, which can be fatal if not treated promptly. If you suspect that you or someone you're with is having a heart attack, dial 911. A delay of even a few minutes in treating a heart attack can result in permanent heart damage or death.
Every year, approximately 1.5 million heart attacks occur in the United States. Even with the best medical care, most cannot be avoided. However, over 10,000 of these heart attacks are not timely diagnosed and treated.
If you or a loved one has been harmed or died due to a medical provider not screening for heart disease or an emergency medical provider not timely diagnosing a heart attack, we may be able to assist you in obtaining compensation for your losses. At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, our medical malpractice attorneys have experience handing heart attack cases. We help clients throughout Upstate New York, with offices in multiple convenient locations. Our extensive experience in the medical malpractice field is reflected in the results we have achieved.
The vast majority of heart attacks are caused by a blockage in one of your heart's blood vessels. Plaque, a sticky substance that can build up on the insides of your arteries, is the most common cause. This buildup is known as atherosclerosis. Plaque deposits inside the coronary arteries can sometimes break open or rupture, causing a blood clot to become lodged where the rupture occurred. If the clot blocks the artery, the heart muscle will be deprived of blood, resulting in a heart attack.
Heart attacks without a blockage are possible but are uncommon, accounting for only about 5% of all heart attacks. This type of heart attack can occur for a variety of reasons, including spasms of the coronary arteries, rare medical conditions that cause unusual narrowing of blood vessels, trauma, including coronary artery tears or ruptures, an obstruction that originated elsewhere in your body, an embolism, a blood clot, or an air bubble that becomes trapped in a coronary artery, an electrolyte imbalance, an eating disorder that can damage your heart over time, and stress cardiomyopathy.
Most of us have heard of a heart attack being misdiagnosed as indigestion or a muscle pull. These misdiagnoses may be more common than one might think. One in every fifty heart attack victims is given a clean bill of health and sent home by ER doctors. Women are the most common victims of these types of heart attack misdiagnosis. Instead of chest pain, women frequently experience nausea or vomiting, leading doctors to incorrectly suspect a gastric disorder rather than a cardiac problem. This is precisely where diagnostic tests come in handy. A proper diagnostic test would determine whether the patient is suffering from a heart attack or another physical condition. Unfortunately, some doctors prefer to rely on their own abilities rather than ordering additional tests.
In the event of a heart attack misdiagnosis or failed diagnosis, the patient may suffer permanent and severe injuries such as paralysis, stroke, or death. Healthcare professionals have so many diagnostic tools at their disposal to confirm or rule out a heart attack. Protocols for treating heart attacks are also well-established. Negligence occurs when a doctor or other medical professional fails to provide care in accordance with generally accepted medical standards.
Heart attacks are typically diagnosed in an emergency room setting. Anyone experiencing symptoms of a heart attack should have a physical examination, which includes checking pulse, blood oxygen levels, and blood pressure, as well as listening to heart and lung sounds.
A heart attack is diagnosed by a healthcare provider using the following criteria:
- History and symptoms: The provider will inquire about your symptoms. They may also ask someone present to describe what occurred.
- Blood tests: Damage to heart muscle cells during a heart attack almost always causes a chemical marker, a cardiac troponin, to appear in your bloodstream. Blood tests for that marker are among the most reliable ways to diagnose a heart attack.
- Electrocardiogram: When you go to the ER with heart attack symptoms, one of the first tests you get is an electrocardiogram (EKG or ECG).
- Echocardiogram: An echocardiogram creates a picture of the inside and outside of your heart using ultrasound (high-frequency sound waves).
- Angiogram: This test detects areas of low or no blood flow.
- Heart computed tomography (CT) scan: This produces a high-resolution image of your heart.
- Heart MRI: This test creates an image of your heart using a powerful magnetic field and computer processing.
- Nuclear heart scans: These scans, like angiography, use a radioactive dye injected into your blood. They differ from an angiogram in that they employ computer-assisted methods such as computed tomography (CT) or positron emission tomography (PET) scans.
Misdiagnosis of a heart attack can also result in brain damage. When the heart stops or slows down, it is unable to supply oxygen-rich blood to all of the body's vital organs. This blood shortage has an impact on the brain, where blood is required for normal processing and functioning.
When there is a significant decrease in blood supply or it occurs over a long period, the injury to the brain can be permanent and widespread. The sooner a patient is diagnosed with a heart attack and treated, the better their chances of surviving without long-term brain damage.
Any delay in diagnosing or treating a cardiac event increases the risk of brain injury. When a doctor or other medical care provider misses the signs of a heart attack and gives the patient the wrong diagnosis or no diagnosis, the patient's oxygen to the brain may continue to be reduced. A person's heart may stop pumping completely during a heart attack until they receive emergency medical care.
According to the American Heart Association, the prognosis for survivors of a cardiac event is determined by how quickly they receive medical care, especially if they suffer cardiac arrest and their heart stops. When a patient seeks medical attention but does not receive an accurate diagnosis, they may suffer a preventable brain injury or more serious brain damage.
Treatments that may be used to prevent long-term brain injury during and after a cardiac event include:
- Supplemental oxygen, mechanical ventilation, or other breathing aids.
- Reviving the heart so that it can beat regularly.
- Initially, medication or external devices are used to control the heart rate and rhythm.
- Lowering a person's body temperature to a hypothermic level to preserve brain function.
A misdiagnosis can lead to a variety of problems. A medical care team will not know what medication or assistance to give to a patient unless they have a correct diagnosis. Misdiagnosis, in combination with the wrong medication and treatment, will not work to preserve brain function. A patient may suffer cardiac arrest or go without full oxygenation for much longer than if they were given a proper diagnosis at the start.
When a person's brain does not receive enough oxygen because of a cardiac event, they can suffer from mild, moderate, or severe brain injuries. Hypoxia is defined as a lack of oxygen in your tissues. A hypoxic injury can result in:
- Executive Functioning Difficulties. A heart attack can cause damage to the part of your brain that handles executive functions. This may have an impact on your reasoning, decision-making, impulse control, and other cognitive abilities.
- Loss of Short-Term Memory. Following a heart attack, a lack of oxygen to the brain's hippocampus may cause damage to the areas that handle short-term memories. A person who has recently been diagnosed with a heart attack may have difficulty recalling recent statements or words. It may also be difficult for the individual to recall recent events.
- Anomia and Language Problems. Anomia is common after a heart attack or a brain injury. Anomia is a condition in which a person has difficulty finding words, recalling words, and/or failing to repeat specific words. Many people have difficulty using the correct word or comprehending the meaning of words they hear or read. This can make it difficult to communicate.
- Visual Processing Difficulties. According to a study published in the Journal of Geriatric Cardiology, a heart attack-related brain injury can make it difficult to process visual information. Your visuospatial and constructional functions are affected by this type of impairment.
A heart attack misdiagnosis may support a medical malpractice claim. Doctors have a responsibility to provide each patient with an accurate and timely diagnosis. Medical professionals must also begin treatment as soon as possible. When symptoms of a heart attack or other potentially fatal conditions appear, doctors must perform a differential diagnosis to rule out these serious conditions.
One of the most common causes of a heart attack misdiagnosis is a doctor's failure to obtain a complete medical history. Patients will only tell the doctor what they are asked to tell, and doctors are expected to know what questions to ask in order to obtain the information they require from their patients. Whether the professional is a general practitioner or a cardiologist, they should inquire about your diet, medications, and family history.
Most people imagine a heart attack as someone suddenly clutching their chest in pain and dramatically collapsing. A heart attack diagnosis is usually fairly obvious in that situation. The issue is that most heart attacks aren't as dramatic or visible. Heart attacks can cause a variety of symptoms, some more common than others. Men are more likely than women to have different heart attack symptoms. People's most common descriptions of heart attack symptoms include:
- Chest pain. This can be mild, causing discomfort or heaviness, or severe, causing crushing pain. It could begin in your chest and spread to your left arm or both arms, shoulder, neck, jaw, back, or down toward your waist.
- Breathing difficulties or shortness of breath.
- Sleeping problems.
- Nausea or stomach pains. Heart attacks are frequently misdiagnosed as indigestion or heartburn.
- Palpitations in the heart.
- Anxiety or the sensation of "impending doom."
- Feeling dizzy, lightheaded, or passing out.
Several key factors affect your risk of having a heart attack. Unfortunately, some of these risk factors are things you can’t control such as:
- Age and sex – Your risk of heart attack increases as you get older. Your sex influences when your risk of a heart attack starts to increase.
- Family history of heart disease – If you have a parent or sibling with a history of heart disease or heart attack, especially at a younger age, your risk is even greater because your genetics are similar to theirs.
- Lifestyle – Lifestyle choices you make that aren’t good for your heart can increase your risk of having a heart attack.
- Certain health conditions or diseases – Some health conditions put stress on your heart.
You can sue your medical provider for medical malpractice if they fail to screen you for heart disease or fail to timely diagnose your heart attack.
At DeFrancisco & Falgiatano, we represent injured clients and their families throughout Upstate New York, including Syracuse, Rochester, Albany, Buffalo, Elmira, Binghamton, Auburn, Ithaca, Oswego, Norwich, Herkimer, Delhi, Cooperstown, Cortland, Lowville, Oneida, Watertown, Utica, Canandaigua, Wampsville, Lyons, and surrounding areas. Please call us at 833-200-2000 or contact us via our online form to discuss your case.