Why heart disease is misdiagnosed sometimes

A main cause of heart attack misdiagnosis is the fact that “male” heart attacks are seen as the standard. Some athletes are also misdiagnosed with disease.

Some medical conditions are fairly easy to diagnose. Others, however, are trickier, and the various forms of heart disease fall into the latter category.

Differences between the genders and "lesser" treatment of women

Heart attacks often look and feel differently for women than they do for men. Indicators of a heart attack in women may include nausea, pain in the back, neck or jaw, and shortness of breath. In men, they may include chest pressure and chest pain.

Doctors seem to be familiar with men's symptoms and less so with women's symptoms. Plus, some doctors are inclined to take complaints from women less seriously. The New England Journal of Medicine did some research on the issue and found that women presenting with signs of a heart attack were regularly given inappropriate tests and sent home when the results came back normal. In fact, younger women, those under 55, may have been misdiagnosed at a rate seven times of their male peers.

Some hospitals are spearheading programs to better educate doctors and the general population about heart attacks in women. For instance, women who do not realize they are showing heart attack symptoms may delay seeking help. Risk factors that can make a woman more likely to experience a heart attack include high cholesterol, diabetes, obesity and a history of heart attacks in the family.

Educational programs for doctors should incorporate more of a willingness to explore gray areas. Many doctors like yes and no answers, black and white answers. Right now, the approaches they take with women do not always produce the answers they prefer to see in men.

Athletic adults

Someone with athlete's heart may be misdiagnosed as having hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. Athletes' hearts are larger than normal, including their muscle walls and chambers. The heart of someone with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy is thick as well, and the condition tends to cause slowed blood flow and irregular heartbeats such as arrhythmias. Cardiac arrest can result from hypertrophic cardiomyopathy, and the condition often runs in families.

An endurance athlete who is misdiagnosed with hypertrophic cardiomyopathy may go through weeks, months or even years of emotional distress.

Types of misdiagnoses

Not all misdiagnoses are created equal. For instance, a doctor may diagnose heart disease but get the cause or specific subtype wrong. And, of course, a doctor may totally blow it and miss the fact that a patient has heart disease. This can happen sometimes with a diagnosis of acid reflux when a heart attack is really going on. There is also delayed diagnosis, when a doctor correctly identifies a condition but only after an unreasonable amount of time. So much time, in fact, that the condition may have worsened considerably.

Being misdiagnosed is scary when it comes to matters of the heart. Consulting with an attorney can keep patients advised of their rights.