Myocardial Infarction Misdiagnosis – Impacts and Implications

A 2022 article published by the US Department of Health & Human Services brought to light that 7.4 million patients in the United States alone faced misdiagnosis during their visits to the emergency department (ED). Among them, 2.6 million patients have suffered an adverse impact as a result, and hundreds of thousands have suffered serious harms due to diagnostic errors.

The article listed five conditions that contributed to 39 percent of serious harms caused due to misdiagnosis, and #2 on the list was Myocardial Infarction.

What is Myocardial Infarction?

Myocardial Infarction (MI) has a widely known colloquial term – heart attack. This condition is typically caused when there is a decrease or full arrest of blood flow to a part of the heart’s muscles, also known as the myocardium. While this arrest of blood flow can be caused by different factors, the most common factor happens to be when there is a blockage in one or more of the heart’s arteries.

Myocardial infarction may be “silent”, which causes it to go undetected, or it could also be tragic and lead to sudden death.

As a life-threatening medical emergency, MI requires quick restoration of blood flow, which will be carried out by a healthcare provider, failure of which can cause lasting heart damage and death.

Symptoms of Myocardial Infarction

Myocardial infarction, or heart attack, can have a variety of symptoms. One important thing to note is that the symptoms vary between men and women.

Symptoms of a heart attack in men include:

  • Mild to severe chest pain. The pain can start in the chest and slowly radiate to other body parts like the left arm, neck, shoulder, or back.
  • Trouble breathing.
  • Nausea or discomfort in the stomach.
  • Heart palpitations.

Symptoms of a heart attack in women include:

  • Pressure, pain, or squeezing feeling in the chest.
  • Urge to throw up / upset stomach.
  • Cold sweat.
  • Pain or numbness in the arms, back, neck, jaw, and/or shoulders.
  • Feeling tired for days or weeks before the event of a heart attack.
  • Loss of appetite.
  • Heart flutters.

As can be seen, many of these symptoms are often mistaken or misdiagnosed for something else. For instance, stomach discomfort, nausea, and similar symptoms are often mistaken for indigestion.

Why is Myocardial Infarction Commonly Misdiagnosed?

Surprisingly, one of the top reasons for myocardial infarction misdiagnosis happens to be gender-based. Yes, chest pain in women is more frequently misdiagnosed than in men, suggests research published by the European Society of Cardiology.

The research reveals that heart attacks in women are often underestimated, and the low suspicion of the condition is common not just in physicians but in women themselves, which in turn leads to misdiagnosis and delayed diagnosis.

Among the millions of people in the U.S. who experience myocardial infarction each year, around 7% of the resulting hospitalizations ended in death. Many patients who visited the emergency department with chest pain or other symptoms were released and were admitted back again for MI within a week, due to the initial misdiagnosis. Unfortunately, the higher odds of this misdiagnosis were associated with younger patients and those of the Black race.

Consequences of Myocardial Infarction Misdiagnosis

The symptoms of myocardial infarction (heart attack) vary in duration, intensity, and between men and women. Regardless, if misdiagnosed and/or left untreated, the condition can lead to serious complications and even death.

As mentioned earlier, a heart attack takes place when blood flow to the heart’s muscles decreases or ceases, which commonly happens due to a blockage in the arteries. If the affected person does not receive immediate medical help, this can lead to complications like the following, which happen quickly after a heart attack:

  • Heart failure.
  • Cardiogenic shock – the heart’s muscles are severely damaged and can no longer supply blood properly.
  • Arrhythmias – irregular or abnormal heartbeats.
  • Heart rupture – heart valves, walls, or muscles rupture.

Many people face sudden death within a month of getting a heart attack, says the National Health Service (NHS).

According to The Society for Cardiovascular Angiography and Interventions, individuals experiencing a heart attack or myocardial infarction have about 90 minutes from the onset of the event to receive medical treatment to restore blood flow to the heart before the heart gets damaged.

Myocardial Infarction Specialists

What type of doctors or specialists can treat myocardial infarction or heart attack? Cardiologists, cardiac surgeons, emergency medicine doctors, and Primary Care Providers (PCPs) can treat the condition.

Myocardial Infarction Liability

Apart from the research-backed facts that women, younger patients, and African Americans are more likely to suffer from myocardial infarction misdiagnosis, understand that anyone and everyone can face the same situation, including older patients.

From emergency department nurses and physicians to consulting physicians and cardiologists, anyone who made a negligent error and/or failed to diagnose a heart attack promptly can be sued for medical malpractice.

Furthermore, even family doctors, physician assistants, diagnostic professionals, and general practitioners can be held responsible for a delayed diagnosis or misdiagnosis of myocardial infarction.

If you suspect negligence, misdiagnosis, and/or delayed diagnosis of myocardial infarction for you or your loved ones, you can hold responsible doctors and medical professionals for accountable medical malpractice. For the case to be successful, you should be able to prove that a timely diagnosis would have prevented the patient from suffering further complications and that proper medical standards were not followed, which led to the misdiagnosis. Contact an experience medical malpractice attorney at Keller Swan to discuss and evaluate your case in detail.