Failure to diagnose a heart attack can cause death. Heart attack isn’t just another condition. It is one of those conditions that put the doctors on very high alert. It is the world’s largest killer responsible for 16% of the world’s total deaths.

Despite the innumerable studies and research on heart attacks and their results, which have educated the medical fraternity, out of the 5 million patients admitted to the emergency room for heart attack symptoms such as chest pain, 2 percent to 8 percent are wrongly diagnosed.

That makes heart attack the most wrongly diagnosed condition. A missed heart attack can result in serious life-threatening complications with poor outcome.

Patients who are wrongly diagnosed are more prone to develop more complications than patients who receive a correct diagnosis.

According to the American Heart Association, someone develops a heart attack every 34 seconds in the United States. It is established as the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States.

What is a heart attack and how does it present?

A heart attack occurs when the flow of blood to a part of the heart wall is blocked. The blockage of blood flow is mostly due to the formation of a plaque in the coronary arteries. The plaque is a sticky deposit formed on the inner arterial wall by the buildup of fat, cholesterol, and other substances.

Sometimes, a plaque can rupture and form a clot that blocks blood flow through the arteries. The interrupted blood flow after some time can cause death of the heart muscle wall where the blood flow is blocked.

Common symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Pressure, tightness, pain, or a squeezing  sensation in your chest that may radiate to your neck, jaw, or back
  • Nausea
  • Indigestion
  • Heartburn
  • Epigastric pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Cold sweats
  • Fatigue
  • Lightheadedness or sudden dizziness

Not all people with heart attacks exhibit the same symptoms or the same severity. Some people develop no symptoms. Others may present with a sudden cardiac arrest.

However, the chances of your symptoms being due to a heart attack are more if you present with more symptoms and of a more severe degree.

Sometimes, heart attacks strike suddenly, but most people are warned by symptoms hours, days, or weeks in advance.

Angina is a precursor to a heart attack and can proceed if not treated and managed. It is caused by a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart.

Angina’s earliest warning symptom may be recurrent chest pain or pressure (angina) that increases on activity and relieved by rest.

Causes of heart attack missed diagnosis

Failure to diagnose a heart attack mainly occurs due to the following reasons:

  • Some error on the part of the physician or the patient.
  • A hurried overworked doctor does not carefully listen to the patient’s complaints and may miss out on something or the patient does not provide all the information required.
  • When the patient is young
  • No previous history of any heart problems
  • When the symptoms are absent
  • There is no family history of a heart attack in the family and
  • Risk factors such as high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, smoking, high cholesterol blood levels, a sedentary lifestyle, and alcohol consumption are absent
  • Changes not seen on ECG even though heart attack is present

Conditions that may mimic a heart attack and lead to missed diagnosis

When a heart attack is misdiagnosed, it is usually confused with:

  • Angina
  • GERD – gastroesophageal reflux disease
  • Panic attacks especially in women
  • A pulled chest muscle
  • Stomach ulcer
  • Gallbladder stones and
  • A fractured rib