When you picture a heart attack, what do you see? Chances are, something like a scene depicted in countless movies and television shows: a man clutching his chest, his face contorted in pain as he crumples to the ground.
Certainly, in that scenario, even an untrained observer would think "heart attack!" Unfortunately, not all heart attacks present so obviously, and their symptoms may be missed. Mounting evidence suggests that heart attack signs are even more likely to be missed in women than in men.
The symptoms of a heart attack can be different in women than in men; in fact, 40% of women experience no pain when having a heart attack. But even when they are experiencing symptoms, many women may be hesitant to seek treatment, sometimes because they've been treated dismissively in the past.
Women, particularly younger women, are far more likely than men to be misdiagnosed when they present with symptoms of a heart attack. The New England Journal of Medicine studied more than 10,000 patients, 48% of whom were female, who presented at hospital emergency rooms with symptoms of heart attack, sometimes including chest pain. Investigation revealed that women younger than 55 were seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed than males. Being sent home from the emergency department rather than admitted for observation doubled the risk of dying, so this is a significant problem.
Misdiagnosis of heart attacks in women can happen for a number of reasons. One is a tendency of doctors (and specialists like cardiologists in particular) to exhibit certainty where it may not be warranted. Experienced specialists, in other words, may come to place too much emphasis on their store of clinical knowledge, and not enough emphasis on the variability of human biology. That variability includes differences between men and women in how heart attacks present.
Even when women present with so-called "textbook" heart attack symptoms, though, they are often not treated the same as men who present with those symptoms. A recent study published in the Journal of the American Heart Association concluded:
Women presenting with cardiac arrest are less likely than male patients to undergo therapeutic procedures, including coronary angiography, percutaneous coronary interventions and targeted temperature management. Despite trends in improving survival after cardiac arrest over 10 years, women continue to have higher in‐hospital mortality when compared with men.
(L Kim et al. Sex‐Based Disparities in Incidence, Treatment, and Outcomes of Cardiac Arrest in the United States, 2003–2012. J Am Heart Assoc. 2016; 5: e003704 originally published June 22, 2016 doi: 10.1161/JAHA.116.003704)
There are also many stories of women whose doctors dismissed them as being overdramatic or hysterical, and failed to thoroughly investigate their reported symptoms. When doctors fail to follow diagnostic and treatment protocols that a reasonable doctor would follow, leading to misdiagnosis of a heart attack, they may be liable for medical malpractice.
Not every missed diagnosis is malpractice. The only way to know is to investigate. An experienced Oregon medical malpractice attorney can assess whether a physician failed to act as a reasonable doctor in the same circumstance would have, and if any harm that followed stemmed from that failure. An ethical attorney will never encourage you to pursue a case that doesn't have merit.
If you suspect that you might have been the victim of malpractice, you have only a limited time to pursue any damages to which you may be entitled, so don't delay in consulting an attorney who understands medical malpractice law.
We invite you to contact Huegli Fraser if you believe that your doctor failed to diagnose your heart attack, or if you are the family member of a woman whose heart attack was not diagnosed in time.. We will listen to the facts of your case, help you understand how Oregon medical malpractice law applies in your situation, review your options with you, and guide you through the best course of action.
The information in this blog post is provided for informational purposes only and is not intended to be legal advice. You should not make a decision whether or not to contact a qualified medical malpractice attorney based upon the information in this blog post. No attorney-client relationship is formed nor should any such relationship be implied. If you require legal advice, please consult with a competent medical malpractice attorney licensed to practice in your jurisdiction.
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