Heart attack is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States today. It is the cause of approximately 1 out of every 4 deaths, or about 610,000 deaths each year, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). A heart attack occurs every 42 seconds, resulting in more than 720,000 heart attacks each year. Of these, about 515,000 are first-time heart attacks, while about 205,000 happen to people who have already had at least one heart attack.
While a heart attack can cause instant death in some circumstances, there are many cases where a timely diagnosis can make the difference between life and death. Heart attack victims who seek immediate treatment when they experience symptoms have a much better chance of avoiding serious heart damage and resuming a normal life.
However, when doctors make mistakes, heart attack victims are denied this opportunity. If medical staff members at the doctor’s office or emergency room ignore complaints of chest pain and other key symptoms or if they make a patient wait too long to see a doctor or fail to test and treat the person properly, the results can be tragic for the patient and their family.
Some of the mistakes that a doctor or other medical practitioner may make in responding to a heart attack victim include:
- Failure to take a patient’s complaints seriously and follow up appropriately
- Failure to notice or understand the nature of a patient’s symptoms
- Failure to diagnosis the symptoms particular to female heart attack victims
- Failure to order the proper tests
- Failure to properly read or interpret test results
- Failure to refer a patient to a specialist for further testing or treatment
In these situations, the prospects for the victim are grim. Even if the patient survives the initial heart attack, subsequent treatment may not reverse the heart damage or other consequences of the blocked artery, like paralysis or brain damage. A future heart attack is also more likely if the symptoms are misdiagnosed and the patient does not receive proper treatment.
Different Symptoms for Women Increase Risk of Misdiagnosis
For women, the risk of dying or suffering serious consequences from a heart attack can be even greater. In fact, heart attacks are the number one cause of death for women in the United States, accounting for one out of every four deaths in females 35 and older. A major reason for this is that women exhibit different symptoms than men. While a male heart attack is typically accompanied by chest pains, women having heart attacks often experience different symptoms that are mistaken for other conditions. When a physician fails to administer proper treatment because a heart attack is misdiagnosed, it can result in irreversible heart damage and even death. Because heart attacks have been historically thought of as a “man’s disease,” doctors do not always perform the appropriate tests on women who report symptoms, especially when the symptoms do not fit the typical male heart attack profile.
The following heart attack symptoms are common in women:
- Pain or discomfort in the neck, jaw, back, shoulder or arm
This kind of pain can be gradual or sudden, and it may come and go before it intensifies. While it differs from the chest or left arm pain people normally associate with a heart attack, women who experience this kind of pain should seek medical attention as it can be a common precursor to a heart attack for women.
- Abnormal sweating and/or shortness of breath
Women who begin to sweat profusely or feel “cold and clammy” should be checked by a doctor, especially when there is no obvious cause such as exercise or hormonal issues, as this can be a sign of an impending heart attack. Shortness of breath after no or minimal exertion is also a symptom that should not be ignored.
- Unusual fatigue
If a simple routine activity such as shopping or mild exercise causes sudden tiredness, this could be a heart attack symptom. The fatigue is often accompanied by a “heavy chest” feeling and/or difficulty sleeping.
- Indigestion, nausea, and vomiting
For women, these symptoms can signal a heart attack. Stomach pain, in the form of severe abdominal pressure, is another sign. It is important not to ignore these symptoms, which are often mistaken for the flu, heartburn or other gastric disorder.
- Pain or pressure in any part of the chest
While pain on the left side of the chest is a common symptom for men, for women, pain in any part of the chest may indicate a heart attack.
The following factors pose a greater heart attack risk to both men and women:
- High blood pressure
- High levels of LDL (bad) cholesterol
- Poor nutrition
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Excessive alcohol use
If you or a family member suffered injury or death from a heart attack due to a doctor or hospital’s failure to diagnose and treat symptoms in a timely and appropriate manner, contact us immediately. Our experienced medical malpractice lawyers will help you receive the compensation you and your family deserve.