Why Are Heart Attacks in Women Often Misdiagnosed?


The mental image many of us have of someone experiencing a heart attack entails the victim turning red in the face and clutching his or her chest dramatically.  It is based mostly on what we have seen actors do on television. While some people who have heart attacks may present these symptoms, the signs are often more subtle, particularly among women.

A woman’s symptoms of a heart attack may be quite different than those of a man. In 2016, the American Heart Association issued a scientific statement on heart attacks in women, saying women are more likely to have atypical symptoms such as back pain, jaw pain, nausea and vomiting. It is more common for these potentially life threatening symptoms to be overlooked or misdiagnosed.

In cases in which a doctor has failed to follow the standard of care in diagnosing a heart attack, the victim may be entitled to file a medical malpractice lawsuit and seek compensation for the damages he or she has suffered.

The following is important information about heart attacks in women, as well as the potential signs of a heart attack that you should be able to recognize.

Why Are Women’s Heart Attacks Often Misdiagnosed?

The American Heart Association (AHA) Go Red For Women campaign seeks to raise awareness among women and their families of the signs and symptoms of cardiovascular disease. Heart disease affects roughly 44 million women. Without proper medical care and treatment, heart disease can easily lead to a heart attack or stroke.

According to the AHA, heart attack symptoms in women put them at an increased risk for heart attack misdiagnosis. A study of cardiac misdiagnoses published in the New England Journal of Medicine examined more than 10,000 patients who went to emergency rooms complaining of chest pain. The researchers found that women younger than 55 were seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed than male patients.

Unfortunately, this means that women are less likely to survive their first heart attack than men.

According to Myheartsisters.org, a website developed by a female heart attack survivor, a misdiagnosed heart attack claim may involve:

  • Failure to diagnose heart attack symptoms in women;
  • Mistaking symptoms of a heart attack for other conditions, including acid reflux or a panic attack; or
  • Delayed diagnosis, which can result from failure to order the proper diagnostic tests immediately upon hospital admittance.

Treadmill stress tests are less accurate at detecting problems in women than in men, and EKG abnormalities can be easily misinterpreted.

Signs of A Heart Attack in Women

It is important to be aware of the symptoms of a heart attack and to report them to a doctor immediately. An AHA facts sheet on heart attack symptoms in women advises calling 911 or going to your nearest hospital emergency room if you experience any of the following:

  • Pressure, squeezing, or pain in the chest that lasts more than a few minutes;
  • Pain or discomfort in the arms, back, neck, or jaw;
  • Shortness of breath;
  • Lightheaded feeling or dizziness; or
  • Nausea or vomiting.

Contact a Lawyer to Discuss a Medical Misdiagnosis Claim

If you suspect that you or a loved one has been the victim of a heart attack misdiagnosis in Rhode Island, talk with a knowledgeable attorney about the situation. Our experienced Rhode Island medical malpractice lawyers can help you seek full compensation for the harm caused by a medical misdiagnosis. Contact Marasco & Nesselbush, LLP today. We serve Providence, Wakefield, Warwick, Woonsocket and the surrounding areas. Call or contact our office online today for a free and confidential case review.