Identifying a Heart Attack

Identifying a Heart Attack

A heart attack happens every 20 seconds and is a leading cause of morbidity and mortality in the United States. Thankfully, the risk of severe complications or death greatly decreases with proper diagnosis and quick treatment.


What Causes a Heart Attack?

The heart is a muscle and its job is to pump oxygen-filled blood through the body. When this constant supply of oxygen and nutrients is temporarily cut off, it causes a condition called cardiac ischemia. If cardiac ischemia lasts too long the heart tissue fed by the blocked artery dies, and that is a  heart attack or Myocardial Infraction.

There are three primary causes of artery blockage:

  1. The first and most common cause is often referred to as a blood clot. It is a consequence of coronary heart disease in which fatty, calcified plaque builds up in an artery.
  2. The second is a severe spasm or tightening of a coronary artery caused from stress, extreme temperatures, cigarette smoking, drugs, and more.
  3. The third cause is a spontaneous coronary artery dissection. While rare, this occurs when the innermost layer of an artery tears, allowing blood to pass through and become trapped, bulging inward.



Men over the age of 45 and women older than 55 have a higher risk of a heart attack than someone younger. Yet, it can happen at any age. While 25 percent of all heart attacks occur without any previous warning signs, living a healthy lifestyle and listening to your body are some of the best ways to decrease the risk of a fatal complication. Potential symptoms include, but are not limited to:

  • Shortness of Breath
  • Dizziness
  • Faintness
  • Nausea
  • Heart Burn
  • Chest Pain


Diagnosis and Treatment

When someone experiences a symptom of a heart attack it is best to immediately call 9-1-1 and take an aspirin. Aspirin reduces blood clotting and helps maintain blood flow through a narrowed artery. A medical professional should then perform an electrocardiogram (ECG, formerly known as an EKG), which records the electrical activity of the heart via electrodes. Doctors may also perform a blood test for certain enzymes that may have slowly leaked into the blood if there was a heart attack, as well as a stress test to monitor how the heart functions during physical activity. Medical doctors can prescribe a range of medications and treatments depending on the results of the tests, such as:

  • Thrombolytics, Antiplatelet Agents, or Blood-thinning Medications
  • Pain Relievers
  • Nitroglycerin
  • Beta Blockers or Ace Inhibitors
  • Surgical Procedures to Stent or Bypass the Blockage


Incorrect Diagnosis

According to the New England Journal of medicine, 1 in 50 heart attacks are incorrectly diagnosed. Examples include a failure to diagnose completely, wrong diagnosis, partial diagnosis or delayed diagnosis. These instances may even result in an unnecessary death. Depending on the situation, the negligence associated with incorrectly diagnosing a patient could also be cause for a medical malpractice lawsuit or wrongful death. The attorneys at Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum have successfully helped numerous victims, and their families, who suffered due to a misdiagnosis of a heart attack.

In one specific case, a man in his 50s went to his primary care physician with complaints of early morning sweating, vomiting, heartburn, and shortness of breath when mowing the grass. In addition to these symptoms, the victim had a number of heart disease risk factors, including an esophageal reflux, high cholesterol, regular smoker, and a family history with coronary artery disease. Despite these signs, the medical doctor did not perform an ECG and did not test for a heart attack as part of the victim’s blood work. The visit resulted in the doctor changing the victim’s current medications and sending him home. Over the next two days the victim called his doctor’s office multiple times with additional complaints. Then on the following day, he died of a Type 2 Myocardial Infarction.

In this instance the primary care physician failed to meet the standard of care by neglecting to perform an ECG during the office visit and by not sending the victim to the emergency room when he continued to call with persistent complaints. Had the victim completed the proper testing and received the appropriate medications and / or surgical treatment, he would still be alive. The victim was survived by his wife and daughter who filed a wrongful death case against the doctor’s office. Padberg, Corrigan & Appelbaum recovered monetary damages for them to help ease the financial stress and emotional pain caused by his loss.