What We Think We Know About Women’s Heart Attacks Is Putting Them in Danger

What We Think We Know About Women’s Heart Attacks Is Putting Them in DangerMaking a trip to the emergency room is stressful and frightening. No one wants to admit that he/she must get help, but sometimes it’s necessary to save your life. The decision to go to the emergency room might be taken out of your hands if you are unconscious due to various types of medical emergencies. Either way, once you arrive you hope that the doctors and nurses work to the best of their abilities to provide you the care you require and deserve.

There are instances where issues arise that involve negligence on the part of the treating staff, resulting in medical malpractice. One such instance is when the doctor fails to diagnose a heart attack. This is medical malpractice and it can be deadly. Close to 80 percent of heart attacks in the United States do not get diagnosed, and it could be because what we think we know hides the truth about them. In other words, people expect a heart attack to look and feel a certain way, so they don’t recognize a heart attack when it looks and feels different.

And that lack of recognition is killing women.

Cedars-Sinai study finds that women are often undiagnosed with heart attacks

A study conducted by Cedars-Sinai in 2018 found that heart attacks in women are going largely undiagnosed. The study found that some women who complain of chest pain do not suffer from artery blockages. These women likely have experienced an undiagnosed heart attack.

The study was conducted by researchers from the National Institutes of Health, the Barbara Streisand Women’s Heart Center, and the Smidt Heart Institute. The study discovered that eight percent of women have scars on their hearts that are indicative of a prior heart attack.

“This study proves that women need to be taken seriously when they complain of chest pain, even if they don’t have the typical symptoms we see in men,” says Dr. Janet Wei, lead author of the study. “Too often, these women are told they don’t have a heart problem and they are sent home instead of receiving appropriate medical care.”

The researchers looked at 340 women who complained of suffering chest pain but did not have any coronary blockages:

  • Eight percent had a myocardial scar that was discovered following a cardiac magnetic resonance (CMR).
  • One-third of the women with the scar were not diagnosed with having a heart attack.
  • 179 women had a follow-up CMR a year later. One percent of those women had scars present one year after having no scars present.

“Many women go to the hospital with chest pain but they often aren’t tested for a heart attack because doctors felt they were low-risk,” says Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center and primary investigator of the WISE study. “And they are considered low-risk because their heart disease symptoms are different than the symptoms men experience.”

Women’s heart attacks are misdiagnosed more often than men’s

The European Society of Cardiology (ESC) recently held a conference to discuss heart attack misdiagnosis. The conference, ESC Acute CardioVascular Care 2021, discussed chest pain being misdiagnosed in women more often than in men.

“Our findings suggest a gender gap in the first evaluation of chest pain, with the likelihood of heart attack being underestimated in women,” said study author Dr. Gemma Martinez-Nadal of the Hospital Clinic of Barcelona, Spain. “The low suspicion of heart attack occurs in both women themselves and in physicians, leading to higher risks of late diagnosis and misdiagnosis.”

The study looked at the differences between the genders in the presentation of chest pain, diagnosis of it, and management of said pain. The researchers who worked on the study looked at patients who were admitted to emergency room departments between 2008 and 2019 for chest pain.

The study looked at 41,828 patients who complained of chest pain. Roughly 42 percent of the patients were women. The average age for women was 65 and for men, it was 59. Close to 41 percent of women waited 12 hours or more before going to the emergency room for chest pains.

“We had the first impression of the doctor as to whether the chest pain had a coronary cause or another origin such as anxiety or a musculoskeletal complaint. This is worrying since chest pain is the main symptom of reduced blood flow to the heart (ischemia) because an artery has narrowed,” said Dr. Martinez-Nadal. “It can lead to a myocardial infarction which needs rapid treatment.”

What are “silent” heart attacks?

You are likely familiar with the film version of a heart attack, where a person grabs her chest, gasps out some last words, and then dies. In truth, most cases of heart attack are nothing like this, especially for women.

A silent heart attack is one where the victim exhibits no symptoms. The victim likely won’t experience shortness of breath or have any chest pain. There are risk factors that go into suffering from a silent heart attack, including the following:

  • Excess weight
  • Diabetes
  • Age
  • Use of tobacco
  • Heart disease in the family
  • No exercise
  • High cholesterol
  • High blood pressure
  • Prior heart attack history

Victims who suffer silent heart attacks are at a higher risk of suffering subsequent heart attacks. The subsequent heart attacks can be serious enough to be deadly.

Failure to misdiagnose a heart attack is an act of medical malpractice

When a patient goes to the emergency room complaining of chest pains, the doctors can misdiagnose these complaints like heartburn, indigestion, a pulled muscle, panic attacks, fractured ribs, ulcers, or another medical condition. The patient’s medical history should be reviewed thoroughly before the doctor makes a diagnosis and sends her home.

The patient should undergo a litany of tests before a diagnosis is made. These tests include a full panel of bloodwork (including cardiac enzymes), a chest x-ray, a CT scan, and multiple EKGs. The results of these tests combined should be able to provide a clear answer about the patient’s condition.

At Mezrano Law Firm, our Alabama medical malpractice attorneys understand the devastation that can be caused by the misdiagnosis of a heart attack. You can lose a loved one, suffer serious damage to the heart muscle, and be at higher risk of subsequent heart attacks without even knowing it. We will demand compensation for the damages you have incurred because of a doctor’s medical malpractice in misdiagnosing your heart attack. For strong legal assistance, call our office at 205-206-6300, or complete a contact form online. We represent clients in Birmingham, Mobile, Florence, Tuscaloosa, Gadsden, and Montgomery.