Take it from me: the only thing worse than a heart attack is being misdiagnosed and sent home from hospital while you’re having it. And for women in particular, this is a tragically all-too-common reality. Research on cardiac misdiagnoses reported in The New England Journal of Medicine*, for example, looked at more than 10,000 heart patients (48% of them women) who had gone to their hospital Emergency Departments with chest pain or other significant heart attack symptoms. Women younger than 55 were SEVEN TIMES more likely to be misdiagnosed than men of the same age.
The consequences of this were enormous: being sent home from the hospital in mid-heart attack doubled their chances of dying.
Some of the most popular cardiac misdiagnoses that heart attack survivors have told me about include guesses like indigestion, menopause, stress, gall bladder issues, exhaustion, pulled muscles, dehydration and more. But perhaps the most distressing misdiagnosis to trip from the lips of an Emergency Department physician is “anxiety”. This one single word is instantly both dismissive and embarrassing. And worse, to have the diagnosis of “anxious female” recorded permanently on a woman’s chart virtually guarantees a definitive psychiatric stereotype for all future medical visits. Continue reading