To err is human, and all of us make mistakes. But when it comes to certain medical conditions – particularly emergencies – there is simply no room for error. Unfortunately, conditions like heart attacks, strokes and cancer are misdiagnosed more often than people realize, delaying badly needed treatment and threatening the lives of patients.
Statistics show, for instance, that women who arrive at an emergency room suffering from a heart attack are more likely than men to have their symptoms misdiagnosed or dismissed. A major reason for this is that women often experience different symptoms of heart attack than men, but doctors largely continue to use the criteria developed by observing men.
Women exhibit different symptoms
The “classic” symptoms of male heart attack are chest pains, pain in the left arm, sweating and shortness of breath. A woman could experience some of these individual symptoms but may not have all of them. Indeed, her symptoms might look very different, especially if she is under age 55. Studies have shown that female heart attack patients under 55 express more diverse combinations of symptoms.
Some less-recognized symptoms of heart attack in women include:
- Dizziness and nausea
- Neck pain
- A feeling akin to heartburn
- Jaw, back and arm pain
In both men and women, chest pain is typically the most common symptom. However, women may not experience the pains as intensely as men, which can cause doctors to overlook it as a diagnostic symptom.
When doctors dismiss the idea of a heart attack because the symptoms don’t match the male template, they may send women home from the emergency room. This can be a deadly mistake. If the woman survives to make it back to the ER, she will have suffered much more heart damage than she otherwise would have.
Advocate for yourself
If you know you are at risk for a heart attack based on routine medical checkups or family history, please don’t let doctors dismiss your symptoms simply because they are not the classic male presentation of cardiac arrest. You can demand more testing. Being thought rude or difficult is a small price to pay for saving your own life.
Unfortunately, not everyone has the opportunity to advocate for themselves. If you have suffered severe heart damage because of a misdiagnosed heart attack or lost a loved one for the same reason, please contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney to discuss your rights and legal options.