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Words matter when we describe our heart attack symptoms

16 Nov

by Carolyn Thomas     @HeartSisters

When I interviewed Dr. Catherine Kreatsoulas* about the research paper she presented last month in Vancouver at the Canadian Cardiovascular Congress(1), she mentioned her previous heart study that caught my attention.

I was surprised by her explanation from that earlier research on how some women describe their chest pain during a heart attack (2), as she told me:  .   .
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How gender bias threatens women’s health

26 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Three years ago, I attended the 64th annual Canadian Cardiovascular Congress – not as a participant, but with media accreditation in order to report on the proceedings for my blog readers.  I arrived at the gorgeous Vancouver Convention Centre feeling excited to interview as many of the cardiac researchers attending this conference as I could squeeze into my 2-day schedule – particularly all the ones studying women’s heart disease.  I was gobsmacked, however, when conference organizers in the Media Centre told me that, out of hundreds of cardiology papers being presented that year, I’d be able to “count on one hand” the number of those studies that had anything even remotely to do with the subject of women and heart disease. Essentially, that appalling gender gap then became the Big Story of the conference for me. And every one of those four lonely little studies shared a conclusion that I already knew: when it comes to heart disease, women fare worse than men do.*  See also: The Sad Reality of Women’s Heart Disease Hits Home:

But already, I can tell that this weekend’s annual Congress (once again back in Vancouver) should do better.  This year, the 192-page conference programme lists over a dozen studies reporting specifically on women’s experience of heart disease.(1)  Sounds good – unless you remember that it’s a puny drop in the bucket for an international conference where over 500 original new scientific papers are being presented about a diagnosis that has killed more women than men every year since 1984.
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“You’ve done the right thing by coming here today”

12 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas  ♥  @HeartSisters

One of the most upsetting things about being misdiagnosed with acid reflux in mid-heart attack was the sense of pervasive humiliation I felt as I was sent home from the Emergency Department that morning. I had just wasted the very valuable time of very busy doctors and nurses working in emergency medicine. I left the hospital feeling apologetic and embarrassed because I had made a big fuss over NOTHING.

And such embarrassment also made me second-guess my own ability to assess when it’s even worth seeking medical help. Worse, feeling embarrassed kept me from returning to Emergency when I was again stricken two days later with identical symptoms: central chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm. But hey! At least I knew it wasn’t my heart, right?

I now ask those in my women’s heart health presentation audiences to imagine what I would have done had my textbook cardiac symptoms been happening to my daughter Larissa instead of to me. General audience opinion is that I, like most Mums, would have likely been screaming blue murder, insisting on appropriate and timely care for my child. But as U.K. physician Dr. Jonathon Tomlinson pointed out recently, even parents can feel insecure about their own ability to know what is a real medical emergency – and what is not – when it comes to their children. For example:     Continue reading

Heart scans: the triumph of profit over science

24 Aug

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

This kind of ad is part of a growing marketing strategy to cash in on your fears. They’re run by for-profit hospitals, medical centres, and sometimes just non-professional entrepreneurs who park their big mobile body imaging vans in church, mall or community parking lots.

For example, an ad from the Heart Hospital of Austin in Texas reads:

“Find a new way to tell Dad you love him! Show your love with a HeartSaver CT Scan!”

The website Track Your Plaque warns:

“The old tests for heart disease were wrong – dead wrong. Heart scans are the most important health test you can get!”

A radio ad for the Princeton Longevity Center in Princeton, New Jersey asks:

“Does your annual physical use the latest technology to prevent heart disease before it strikes?”

And this center’s website further promises that its full-day exams – which include heart scans and usually are not covered by health insurance plans – can detect the “silent killers that are often missed in a typical physical exam or routine blood tests.”

Yet most major health agencies (like the American Heart Association, the American College of Radiology, the American Cancer Society) do not recommend routine use of heart scans in low-risk people without heart-related symptoms.  Continue reading

Why patient stories actually matter

10 Aug

Most of our medical visits start with some variation of this opening question: “Why are you here today?” Connecting with and understanding patients thus requires doctors to listen to what’s called the patient narrative.  The importance of really hearing this narrative is beautifully described by U.K. physician Dr. Jeff Clark, writing in the British Journal of General PracticeBut the problem, as Dr. Clark reminds his peers, is that patients and doctors see the world in very different ways.  He also warns that the stories patients tell their physicians about why they’re seeking medical care may all too often be seen by doctors as merely a time-wasting distraction from “getting to the bottom of things.

The urge to get to the bottom of things may also help to explain what’s known as “The 18-Second Rule”.
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Misdiagnosis: is it what doctors think, or HOW they think?

25 May

As a heart attack survivor who was sent home from the E.R. with a misdiagnosis of indigestion despite presenting with textbook symptoms (central chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain radiating down my left arm), I’m pretty interested in the subject of why women are far more likely to be misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack compared to our male counterparts.

Dr. Pat Croskerry is pretty interested in the subject of misdiagnosis, too. He’s an Emergency Medicine physician, a patient safety expert and director of the critical thinking program at Dalhousie University Medical School in Halifax. In fact, he implemented at Dal the first undergraduate course in Canada about medical error in clinical decision-making, specifically around why and how physicians make diagnostic errors. Every year, he gives a deceptively simple critical thinking quiz to his incoming first-year med students.

So here’s your chance to practice thinking like a doctor. Try answering these yourself, but as Dr. Croskerry advises, don’t think too hard. If you were an Emergency Department physician, paramedic or first responder, he warns, you’d have only seconds to size things up and make a decision. Don’t read ahead to peek at the answers! Now, here are your questions:   Continue reading

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