When a person’s arteries narrow to the point where blood flow to the heart is dramatically reduced or is cut off altogether, a heart attack happens. The American Heart Association (AHA) reports that heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States, but a recent study conducted at Yale School of Public Health still finds that women are also most likely to have heart attack symptoms go unnoticed by doctors. To prevent a deadly mistake or misdiagnosis, doctors and other medical professionals need to incorporate new understanding of what heart attack symptoms look like for women.
Some of the most common symptoms of heart attacks are chest pain or pressure, shortness of breath and pain or discomfort in one or both arms. Although Yale’s study confirmed that both men and women are likely to experience chest pain, still nearly 62% of female participants said they had three or more non-chest symptoms. These findings indicate that doctors may interpret non-chest related symptoms as being unrelated to a heart attack – especially in female patients – and so they are prone to being misdiagnosed. In fact, more than half of the women in the study said that their doctor(s) thought their symptoms weren’t related to heart disease at all.
Unsurprisingly, when a doctor fails to recognize signs of heart disease and a heart attack, it can lead to deadly consequences for a patient. Heart disease is an umbrella term for a variety of cardiovascular diseases, and generally refers to when a person’s arteries narrow or become blocked because of a build-up plaque. The medical term for a heart attack is a myocardial infarction. This is when a clot or blood vessel blocks the coronary artery and cuts off oxygen or blood flow, causing sudden damage or death to the heart muscle.
According to the Women’s Heart Foundation (WHF), 267,000 women die annually from heart attacks – and at least 8 million women in the United States currently live with heart disease. There are many factors that contribute to heart disease and heart attacks, but some people are still at a higher risk than others. Researchers find that the women most at risk either are or have:
The WHF also acknowledges how necessary it is for doctors to more adequately understand heart attacks in women and avoid lethal misdiagnoses. Most women who have heart attacks (71%) experience symptoms that are “flu-like”, such as extreme weakness or fatigue. And even though many women have chest pain, some fail to present this as a symptom at all. Now it’s up to doctors to respond to this wealth of medical findings and figure out how to tweak their approaches and achieve better medical outcomes for their female patients.
Many women across the country have stories about reporting non-chest symptoms (such as neck or jaw pain) to their doctor(s) – and many of them say that their medical provider(s) failed to properly assess their high risk for heart attacks. According to the director of the Joan H. Tisch Center for Women’s Health in New York, these differences aren’t by any means new news to the medical community. She says that the medical community has understood these differences for quite some time – which means many of these misdiagnoses are preventable.
Women should be wary of all kinds of heart attack symptoms, especially now that we know that doctors are more likely to miss the obvious signs. Women having a heart attack may exhibit:
The study’s findings also indicate a second problem: that women may be more hesitant to report unconventional symptoms for fear of being thought of as exaggerative or uninformed. But heart attack survivors out there want other women to know that there’s no reason to be scared to call for help if you think you’re having a heart attack – because if you’re right, it’s critical to get medical attention right away.
If you’re a woman and you know you are at higher risk for heart attack or heart disease due to a family history or other pertinent medical issues, it’s a good idea to have a conversation about risk (as well as prevention) with your doctor or cardiologist. Even though we all want to believe that every doctor will maintain a standard of care throughout treatment, it obviously doesn’t always happen.
If you’re a woman who had a heart attack and your doctor failed to diagnose you correctly or missed other signs, therefore preventing you from getting care in as timely of a manner as you could’ve, please contact a representative at our firm. We may be able to help.
If you had a heart attack that was misdiagnosed or you experienced other injuries as a result of medical negligence, please contact the Philadelphia medical malpractice lawyers at Galfand Berger. With offices located in Philadelphia, Bethlehem, Lancaster, and Reading, we serve clients throughout Pennsylvania and New Jersey. To schedule a consultation, call us at 800-222-8792 or complete our online contact form.