Heart attacks in both men and women account for hundreds of thousands of emergency room visits and deaths annually. A qualified and seasoned physician who knows the history of a particular patient can provide education on the signs and symptoms of a heart attack related to that individual, and any number of medical websites will list general signs of an oncoming heart attack. But, if the symptoms seem so “clear” why are heart attacks easily misdiagnosed?
The reasons are many. Picture this scenario: “My husband was fine last night when he was released from the emergency room with chest pain. They gave him some medication after asking him a few questions, and said it was nothing more than an extreme case of anxiety. Today, he experienced the same pains, but brushed it off because he didn’t want to look foolish and have the doctors tell him the same thing as they did last night. This evening, he passed away.”
No one wants to hear that story, especially the emergency room doctor who treated the patient when he arrived the night before. There are several tests that take place once someone is admitted to an emergency room for complaints of chest pains, and it’s likely that the doctor in the situation above performed those tests. Standard tests like EKGs, stress tests, heart monitoring and catheterization are some of the procedures that might pinpoint the problem. Newer testing approaches could offer a quicker diagnosis of a heart attack by detecting a substance in the blood which tests positive for evidence of a heart attack. But, until new procedures are approved and finalized, the responsibility of care comes in the form of self-awareness and doctor-patient communication.
If you find yourself admitted to the hospital or emergency room, keep these tips in mind:
- Verbally speak up and take every abnormal sign as an indication that the internal functions might not be what they should.
- Don’t wait days before reporting that you haven’t been feeling well.
- Continue to keep the communication lines open by being honest with the physician and those who are treating you. Let them know as best you can the intensity of the pain you are feeling, and whether you have experienced this type of pain before. (For the patient who has never had severe indigestion, the pain could be overwhelming. For the patient who knows what indigestion feels like, the pain may be interpreted as “not so bad.” )
- Proactively, you might compile a folder with information on chronic health conditions, past medical tests, lists of any allergies to medications, and the contact information of friends and family.
If you’ve arrived in an overcrowded emergency room, you may be tasked with advocating on your own behalf to ensure that you’re getting the quality of care you need. Paying attention to signs and symptoms, being honest with those who are caring for you, and keeping records of your personal health history are the tools that help your doctor tend to your needs effectively.