A heart attack (myocardial infarction) is dangerous event that occurs when normal blood flow into a section of the heart is suddenly blocked or disrupted. This interruption of incoming blood flow deprives the heart of oxygen. If blood flow is not promptly restored the heart muscle will stop functioning permanently and cause death.
There are approximately 1.5 million heart attacks every year in this country. Most cannot be avoided even with the best of medical care. But over 10,000 of these heart attacks are related to some type of misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose either the heart attack itself or prior symptoms. Heart attack misdiagnosis usually involve doctors in the emergency room or primary care doctors.
When doctors fail to properly diagnose a heart attack or the warnings of in impending heart attack patients can suffer and even die. If you or a loved one has been harmed or killed by a misdiagnosed heart attack misdiagnosis, we may be able to help get compensation for the harm that was caused. The Maryland heart attack misdiagnosis lawyers at Miller & Zois can investigate your case and determine whether medical negligence occurred.Failure to Diagnose Heart Attacks
When most people think of a heart attack they picture someone suddenly clutching their chest in pain and dramatically falling over. In that scenario a heart attack diagnosis is usually pretty obvious. The problem is that most heart attacks are not so dramatic or obvious. Rather most heart attacks are much more subtle. Instead of sudden pain and clutching of the chest the heart attack patient comes in with more understated symptoms that can easily be confused with other less serious causes.
Failure to diagnose a heart attack is something that most frequently occurs in the emergency room or the patient’s primary care office. The most common reasons for why doctors primary care or emergency room doctors sometimes fail to realize that a patient has suffered a heart attack are as follows:
- Minor Symptoms: sometimes a heart attack has occurred but the physical symptoms experienced by the patient are so minor and limited in nature that doctors do not even consider the possibility of heart attack. For instance, some heart attack patients only experience nausea or abnormal fatigue and doctors never even test for heart problems.
- Misdiagnosis: the symptoms of a small heart attack can often mimic symptoms of other health conditions that are much more common leading to misdiagnosis. Heart attacks are frequently misdiagnosed as acid reflux, heart burn, bronchitis, anxiety attacks and other common conditions.
- EKG is Normal: an electrocardiogram (EKG) is the standard initial test that doctors use to diagnose heart attacks. The EKG measures the electrical impulse activity of the heart and displays in on a monitor. When an EKG test comes back normal doctors tend to rule out heart attack and look other explanations. The problem with this is that EKG testing can show normal activity shortly after a heart attack. EKGs are not completely accurate diagnostic tools and doctors rely too heavily on them.
- Atypical Patient: when it comes to diagnosis heart attacks doctors tend to stereotype patients. The stereotypical heart disease patients are older males with a history of heart disease or related conditions such as hypertension or high cholesterol. When a patient is female or young and generally healthy doctors often dismiss the possibility of a heart attack.
Women actually die of heart disease more often than men do. Unfortunately, this reality is not widely recognized and many primary care doctors or emergency room doctors are too quick to dismiss the possibility of heart attack in female patients. Doctors also commonly misdiagnose heart attack symptoms in females as stroke or anxiety attacks. In fact, a New England Journal of Medicine study found that women under the age of 55 were seven times more likely to have their heart attack misdiagnosed than men. This resulted in women leaving the hospital without a proper evaluation, which makes them twice as likely to die.Examples of Heart Attack Misdiagnosis Lawsuits
Described below are example scenarios of how doctors often fail to diagnose heart attacks or misdiagnose them as something else. These examples are based on actual medical malpractice lawsuits involving claims of heart attack misdiagnosis:
- A 43-year-old male suffers a heart attack and the emergency room doctor at his local hospital misdiagnosis his chest pain as a muscle spasm. Instead of getting the necessary tests to know that a heart attack was imminent, the patient is told to take Tylenol and get some rest. The next day, he has a major heart attack at his primary care provider’s office. His life expectancy is reduced to five years or less.
- A 60-year-old man is told by his primary care doctor that he has angina instead of a heart attack. He dies seven days later of a heart attack.
- A 52-year-old woman dies of a heart attack shortly after three months she presented to her PCP with chest pain and nausea. Her doctor misdiagnosed her heart condition as costochondritis. She returned twice complaining of the same symptoms.
- A 67-year-old man goes to his primary care doctor with complaints of lightheadedness, sweats. His EKG is abnormal, and he has a biomarker (myoglobin) of a heart attack. His PCP does not order any follow-up tests and diagnoses an upper respiratory disturbance. For the next week, he suffers from the same symptoms and goes to the hospital. The emergency room doctors repeat the EKG, which they incorrectly interpret as normal. He goes home again. He returns three days later with a 98% blocked right-sided coronary artery. They tried to put in a stent, but he died two days later.
- A 37-year-old woman suffers brain damage and a heart attack after the hospital misdiagnosis her heart condition as "working mom anxiety" in spite of having classic signs of a heart attack.
Let's get out of the hypothetical and look at real lawsuits filed in Maryland courts in 2016-17 alleging failure to diagnose a heart attack.
- Cecil County lawsuit against a primary care doctor who missed heart attack symptoms and did not do or order a simple EKG in 2017
- ER misdiagnosis lawsuit in Chestertown in 2017.
- Classic heart attack misdiagnosis case filed in 2016 in Rockville (Montgomery County) Maryland.
- Yet another classic heart attack misdiagnosis case, also filed in Rockville within a month of the preceding example, this one against Kaiser
- Another failure to diagnose a heart attack case, this time in the emergency room
- A Baltimore City malpractice case alleging failure to diagnose a heart attack in 2017
- Heart attack misdiagnosis against Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore in 2017
Here are examples of heart attack misdiagnosis settlements and verdicts.
- 2019, Pennsylvania $1,750,000 Settlement: 44-year-old male patient went to an Express Care urgent care facility near Philadelphia with sharp pains in both arms, chest pains and pain in the back of the tongue. Doctors at the urgent care office diagnosed him with acid reflux and neuropathy and gave him a prescription for Pepcid with instructions to go to the hospital if symptoms persisted. The following day the patient suffered a massive heart attack and was found dead in his home. His estate sued Express Care alleging its doctors were negligent in failing to perform proper cardiac diagnostic tests such as an ECG and blood tests, failing to monitor the patient for several hours to see if his symptoms changed and improperly discharging him with an incorrect diagnosis. The case was settled for $1.7 million.
- 2017, Texas $1,056,500 Verdict: 48-year-old male patient is under the care of defendants primary care doctor and cardiologist with complaints of chest pain. Defendants rule out a heart attack as the potential cause and conclude that his chest pain is related to gallbladder disease. Four days later patient suffers a major heart attack and dies. His estate brings wrongful death action against doctors alleging that they were negligent in misinterpreting EKG results and failing to recognize the significant of other tests including a chest x-ray showing enlargement of the patient’s heart. One defendant settles for $315k and the case goes to trial against the others resulting in a jury verdict of $1 million.
- 2015, Connecticut $2,425,000 Verdict: A 61-year-old man went to the ER with chest pain radiating into his left arm, dizziness, and lightheadedness. His EKG and chest x-ray were normal. He returned to the hospital the next day and got a nuclear stress which was also normal. He was diagnosed with gastrointestinal problems and released. A few weeks later, he woke up with what he thought was severe indigestion pain. He went to the ER and died of cardiopulmonary arrest and myocardial infarction. The man's family brought a wrongful death lawsuit against the doctors alleging the EKGs were abnormal, and reasonable doctors would have ordered a cardiac catheterization. The family's verdict consisted of $425,000 for loss of consortium and $2,000,000 damages to the victim's estate.
- 2014, California $475,000 Settlement: Plaintiff saw his PCP with back pain and symptoms suggestive of a heart attack. His doctor treated the back pain with medication and ignored the cardiac symptoms. A week later he has a myocardial infarction that resulted in heart damage.
- 2006, Maryland (P.G. County) $600,000 Verdict: Man arrived at Southern Maryland Hospital's emergency room complaining of sharp pain in the side of his chest, shortness of breath and pain with movement and when breathing deeply. The ER doctor ordered an EKG and a chest x-ray and gave him Toradol for his for musculoskeletal pain. He was diagnosed with musculoskeletal pain and discharged. Hours later, he returned to the hospital with more complaints of pain. He was diagnosed with angina and admitted to the hospital to rule out a heart attack. He underwent testing which showed abnormal results and he was transferred to Georgetown University Medical Center because they could not perform a cardiac catheterization at Southern Maryland Hospital. Georgetown found that he had had an acute heart attack requiring two stents. He claimed at trial misdiagnosis and the failure to transfer him to Georgetown in a timely fashion.
- 2002, Maryland (Annapolis) $1,916,328 Verdict: A woman presented to the emergency room at Baltimore Washington Hospital with symptoms of cardiac arrest. Instead of performing the necessary tests to rule out a cardiac event, she was released. She suffered from oxygen deprivation that resulted in a mild brain damage.
Heart attacks go undiagnosed for a variety of reasons. Sometimes the symptoms of a heart attack are more subtle and often get confused with other, more common conditions such as acid reflux or panic attacks. Doctors also sometimes rely on inaccurate EKG testing and prematurely rule out a heart attack based on normal results.
The electrocardiogram, commonly knows as an EKG, is the standard tool for diagnosing heart attacks and other heart problems. Unfortunately, EKGs are known to be inaccurate. In many cases an EKG test will come back as completely normal even when the patient has just recently had a heart attack. EKGs miss around 60% of all heart attacks. Doctors must avoid over reliance on EKG results.
If your doctor negligently fails to diagnose your heart attack and that misdiagnosis eventually leads to further injury or death, you can sue the doctor for medical malpractice. Your claim will be successful if you can show that a reasonable doctor would have diagnosed the heart attack under the same circumstances.
Misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose a heart attack most often occurs in the hospital emergency room. This page looks at the nature of emergency room misdiagnosis cases involving heart attacks.Cardiologist Malpractice
Cardiologists are doctors who specialize in diagnosis and treating heart and cardiovascular diseases and are therefore heavily involved in the diagnosis of heart attacks.Misdiagnosis Malpractice
This page offers general overview and discussion of medical malpractice claims based on misdiagnosis or failure to diagnose medical conditions.Heart Arrhythmia Malpractice Claims
This page looks at medical malpractice claims involving patients with heart arrhythmia (irregular heartbeat) which is not properly diagnosed and treated.Value You Malpractice Case
Are you trying to figure out what the potential value of your medical malpractice claim might be? This page will help you come up with an estimated valuation of any type of malpractice case.Hiring a Medical Malpractice Lawyer
If you have suffered from medical malpractice from a misdiagnosis, we can help you learn about your options and determine whether there is a path for you to get compensation for the harm that has been done. Call us today at 800-553-8082 to discuss strategies to get you the compensation for your loss you deserve. There is NO COST OR FEE of any kind for this case evaluation. You can also get a free online case review.