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Women’s heart disease: is it underdiagnosed, or misdiagnosed?

26 Mar

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

Do you know the difference between a medical condition that’s underdiagnosed, and one that’s misdiagnosed? I thought you’d never ask. . .  Underdiagnosis is a failure to recognize or correctly diagnose a disease or condition, especially in a significant proportion of patients, as in: “Heart disease in women is still being underdiagnosed compared to our male counterparts.”(1) But misdiagnosis is an incorrect, partial or delayed diagnosis of one individual’s illness or other medical problem, as in: “I left the Emergency Department with a misdiagnosis of acid reflux despite my textbook heart attack symptoms of central chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm.”

The trouble is this: the more that misdiagnosis happens to individual women, one after another, the more likely we are to continue seeing underdiagnosis of women heart patients as a whole. Thank you to these heart patients who shared their own experiences of surviving a misdiagnosis: Continue reading

“You’re young, healthy, thin – and nothing’s wrong with your heart”

18 Dec
Elissa and her family

              Elissa and her family

Elissa is a busy 32-year old professional violinist, a mother of three, and a violin teacher who also teaches part-time at her local university. Last year, the northern Utah resident began experiencing unusual symptoms that seemed to be heart-related: chest pain, shortness of breath and crushing fatigue.

These symptoms were so alarming that she knew she needed to seek medical help. See if you can spot the red flag as she tells her story . . .

Continue reading

85% of hospital admissions for chest pain are NOT heart attack

30 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

“I was asleep and my symptoms woke me up. I had several simultaneous symptoms, but the first one seemed to be central chest pain. It wasn’t sharp or crushing or burning, more like a dull pressure. The pain radiated down my left arm and up into my neck and jaw. I had cold sweats, and I felt nauseated.”

Laura Haywood-Cory, age 41, heart attack, six stents

Researchers tell us that over 90% of us already know that chest pain like Laura’s could be a symptom of what doctors call Acute Myocardial Infarction (AMI – or heart attack) or Acute Coronary Syndrome (any condition brought on by sudden reduced blood flow to the heart muscle).  So it may not surprise you to learn that chest pain is the main reason that over 6 million people rush to the Emergency Departments of North American hospitals each year. These visits also represent a whopping 25% of all hospital admissions – yet 85% of these admissions do NOT turn out to be heart-related at allContinue reading

What kind of heart attacks do young women have?

11 Oct

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

In your average garden-variety textbook heart attack, the cause is typically a sudden lack of oxygenated blood supply feeding the heart muscle, caused by a significant blockage in one of your coronary arteries. This blockage is what doctors call the culprit lesion.

But in a new study led by Yale University cardiologist Dr. Erica Spatz, researchers remind us that although this “culprit lesion” classification of heart attack applies to about 95% of men under age 55, only 82.5% of younger women experience this kind of heart attack.(1)    Continue reading

Mandatory reporting of diagnostic errors: “Not the right time?”

27 Sep

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

I can’t be 100% certain, but I’m betting my next squirt of nitro spray that the Emergency Department physician who misdiagnosed me with acid reflux and sent me home despite my textbook heart attack symptoms (central chest pain, nausea, sweating and pain down my left arm) did NOT voluntarily report his diagnostic error to his supervisor or to anybody else after I was correctly diagnosed much later by a different emergency doc. Continue reading

“It’s not your heart. It’s just _____” (insert misdiagnosis)

3 May

by Carolyn Thomas    @HeartSisters

It’s fair to say that you would not be reading these words had my heart attack not been misdiagnosed with a cheerful “You are in the right demographic for acid reflux!”  Had I been correctly diagnosed, admitted and appropriately treated during that first trip to the Emergency Department, I would likely never have started this blog in 2009. Nor would I be still writing years later about female heart patients being misdiagnosed in mid-heart attack.

We know that women continue to be under-diagnosed – and then under-treated even when appropriately diagnosed – compared to men presenting with cardiac symptoms.  In fact, as reported in the New England Journal of Medicine, female heart patients in their 50s and younger are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed than our male counterparts.(1)

Here’s my latest round of true tales from women whose cardiovascular disease is still being missed:    Continue reading