Symptoms of heart disease can be diagnosed in a routine physical by listening to a patient’s heartbeat and measuring blood pressure, as well as identifying risk factors in a patient’s medical history. Due to the warning signs of heart disease, potentially fatal heart attacks can be prevented in many cases. Patients and their families may have legal options against medical professionals for failure to diagnose heart attacks, potentially allowing them to recover compensation for medical expenses, rehabilitation and home health costs, pain and suffering, and other losses.
If you or a loved one suffered as a result of the failure to diagnose a heart attack by a healthcare provider, contact Attorney Group for more information about your options. At no out-of-pocket cost to you, we can answer your questions. If you have a case, we can connect you with an affiliated medical malpractice attorney who can help you seek the compensation to which you may be entitled.
What is a Heart Attack?
A heart attack, or acute myocardial infarction is caused by the blockage of blood flow to the heart through one or more of the coronary arteries. Cholesterol and various other plaques can build up in the coronary artery walls, narrowing the blood vessel.
Plaques can be comprised of various substances, including:
- Cellular Waste
- Fibrin, a protein involved in blood clotting
Blood clots can form on these plaques, completely blocking the flow of blood and starving part of the heart muscle of oxygen. A person can die of a heart attack depending on how much of the heart tissue is affected.
WebMD describes a heart attack as follows:
“The heart requires its own constant supply of oxygen and nutrients, like any muscle in the body. Two large, branching coronary arteries deliver oxygenated blood to the heart muscle. If one of these arteries or branches becomes blocked suddenly, a portion of the heart is starved of oxygen, a condition called ‘cardiac ischemia.’
If cardiac ischemia lasts too long, the starved heart tissue dies. This is a heart attack, otherwise known as a myocardial infarction — literally, “death of heart muscle.”
Most heart attacks occur during several hours — so never wait to seek help if you think a heart attack is beginning. In some cases there are no symptoms at all, but most heart attacks produce some chest pain.
Other signs of a heart attack include shortness of breath, dizziness, faintness, or nausea. The pain of a severe heart attack has been likened to a giant fist enclosing and squeezing the heart. If the attack is mild, it may be mistaken for heartburn. The pain may be constant or intermittent. Also, women are less likely to experience the classic symptoms of chest pain than men are.”
What Causes Heart Disease?
The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute describes the following causes of heart disease:
“Research suggests that coronary heart disease (CHD) begins with damage to the lining and inner layers of the coronary (heart) arteries. Several factors contribute to this damage. They include:
- Smoking, including secondhand smoke
- High amounts of certain fats and cholesterol in the blood
- High blood pressure
- High amounts of sugar in the blood due to insulin resistance or diabetes
- Blood vessel inflammation
Plaque may begin to build up where the arteries are damaged. The buildup of plaque in the coronary arteries may start in childhood.
Over time, plaque can harden or rupture (break open). Hardened plaque narrows the coronary arteries and reduces the flow of oxygen-rich blood to the heart. This can cause chest pain or discomfort called angina.
If the plaque ruptures, blood cell fragments called platelets (PLATE-lets) stick to the site of the injury. They may clump together to form blood clots.
Blood clots can further narrow the coronary arteries and worsen angina. If a clot becomes large enough, it can mostly or completely block a coronary artery and cause a heart attack.
In addition to the factors above, low estrogen levels before or after menopause may play a role in causing coronary microvascular disease (MVD). Coronary MVD is heart disease that affects the heart’s tiny arteries.”
Prevalence of Heart Disease in the U.S.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), every year about 610,000 people in the United States die of heart disease, making it the leading cause of death for American men and women. Over 370,000 of annual heart disease deaths in the U.S. are caused by coronary heart disease.
Despite its prevalence, and as with heart attacks, failure to diagnose heart disease can lead to liability on the part of a medical professional.
Almost half of Americans have at least one of the following key risk factors for heart disease, according to the CDC: high blood pressure, high LDL cholesterol, and smoking. Medical experts advise taking the following steps can help lower your blood pressure and cholesterol and protect your heart:
- Quitting smoking
- Following a low-sodium, low-fat, and low cholesterol diet, and eating fruits and vegetables regularly
- Taking three ten-minute walks, five days a week.
Heart Attack Statistics
According to the Heart Foundation, on average, an American suffers a heart attack every 34 seconds. Approximately 720,000 people in the U.S. suffer heart attacks each year. 515,000 of those are first heart attacks, while 205,000 happen to people who have already had a heart attack.
Heart Attack Signs and Symptoms
According to the American Heart Association, heart attack warning signs include the following:
- Chest pain or discomfort
- Discomfort in other parts of the upper body, including one or both arms, neck jaw, stomach, or back
- Shortness of breath, with or without chest discomfort
- Cold sweat, nausea, or lightheadedness
Heart Attack Risk Factors
The Mayo Clinic lists the following as heart attack risk factors:
- Age. Men age 45 or older and women age 55 or older are more likely to have a heart attack than are younger men and women.
- Tobacco. Smoking and long-term exposure to secondhand smoke increase the risk of a heart attack.
- High blood pressure. Over time, high blood pressure can damage arteries that feed your heart by accelerating atherosclerosis. High blood pressure that occurs with obesity, smoking, high cholesterol or diabetes increases your risk even more.
- High blood cholesterol or triglyceride levels. A high level of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol (the “bad” cholesterol) is most likely to narrow arteries. A high level of triglycerides, a type of blood fat related to your diet, also ups your risk of heart attack. However, a high level of high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol (the “good” cholesterol) lowers your risk of heart attack.
- Diabetes. Insulin, a hormone secreted by your pancreas, allows your body to use glucose, a form of sugar. Having diabetes — not producing enough insulin or not responding to insulin properly — causes your body’s blood sugar levels to rise. Diabetes, especially uncontrolled, increases your risk of a heart attack.
- Family history of heart attack. If your siblings, parents or grandparents have had early heart attacks (by age 55 for male relatives and by age 65 for female relatives), you may be at increased risk.
- Lack of physical activity. An inactive lifestyle contributes to high blood cholesterol levels and obesity. People who get regular aerobic exercise have better cardiovascular fitness, which decreases their overall risk of heart attack. Exercise is also beneficial in lowering high blood pressure.
- Obesity. Obesity is associated with high blood cholesterol levels, high triglyceride levels, high blood pressure and diabetes. Losing just 10 percent of your body weight can lower this risk, however.
- Stress. You may respond to stress in ways that can increase your risk of a heart attack.
- Illegal drug use. Using stimulant drugs, such as cocaine or amphetamines, can trigger a spasm of your coronary arteries that can cause a heart attack.
- A history of preeclampsia. This condition causes high blood pressure during pregnancy and increases the lifetime risk of heart disease.
- A history of an autoimmune condition, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. Conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and other autoimmune conditions can increase your risk of having a heart attack.
Heart Attacks: Men Vs. Women
According to the Women’s Heart Foundation, since 1984, more women have died annually from heart disease than men, and that gap continues to grow. Plaque in men more often distributes in clumps in the arteries, whereas in women it spreads more evenly in the arteries’ inner walls. Due to this difference, women’s angiographic results can be misread as normal.
Women have a two-fold increased risk of dying within the first few weeks following a heart attack, and often wait longer than men to visit an emergency room. Doctors are reportedly slower to diagnose heart attacks in women, because chest pain and EKG patterns that are characteristic of heart attacks are present less often. 71% of women suffer severe weakness common to the flu before having a heart attack, sometimes without any chest pain.
Heart Disease and Stroke
Heart disease and stroke share many of the same risk factors, and one is often a risk factor for the other. According to the American Heart Association, patients with coronary heart disease or those who have suffered a heart attack due to atherosclerosis are more than twice as likely to suffer a stroke than patients who have not had a heart attack.
Whereas coronary heart disease involves the buildup of plaques in the coronary arteries, atherosclerosis is a disease in which plaque can build up in the arteries of any part of the body. Heart attack and stroke are related, as both can be caused by the blockage of blood flow to a part of the body. In a stroke, the brain rather than the heart is deprived of oxygen-rich blood.
Along with heart disease, stroke is a leading cause of deaths in the U.S. Approximately 1 in every 20 deaths is caused by stroke – 130,000 deaths annually.
Medical Negligence and Failure to Diagnose Heart Attacks
Harm to a patient by the error of a medical professional is known as medical negligence. If a patient can prove a mistake was made and that he or she was harmed by the mistake in question, a medical malpractice claim is possible.
The standard of care is important in pursuing a medical malpractice claim. This standard is the approach taken to treat patients in similar conditions by medical professionals in a particular region. If a patient can show that a medical professional failed to follow the existing standard of care for his or her medical issue, and that he or she was harmed by that error, the patient’s chances for recovery of damages caused by the error increases.
In the case of a heart attack, a medical professional’s error in diagnosis can result in serious harm or death to a patient. The patient or his or her family may be entitled to compensation for medical expenses, loss of wages, pain and suffering, or other losses in a failure to diagnose heart attack lawsuit.
The Time to File a Lawsuit is Limited. Contact Us Today.
If you were injured, or a loved one was killed by the failure to diagnose a heart attack, contact Attorney Group to learn more about your options. At no out-of-pocket cost to you, we can answer your questions. If you have a case, we can connect you with a medical malpractice attorney who can assist you throughout the legal process.