Undiagnosed heart attacks claiming potentially thousands of lives

Research published in the Lancet public health journal suggests that potentially tens of thousands of lives are being put at risk in the UK every year because of undiagnosed heart attacks.

Examining hospital records relating to 135,950 English patient heart attack deaths over a four-year period from 2006-2010, researchers from Imperial College London found that 16% had been admitted to hospital in the previous 28 days, with doctors failing to recognise the signs of impending heart trouble. The records examined stated whether heart attack was the primary cause for hospital admission, a secondary reason or simply not listed as a reason whatsoever, and researchers found that a staggering 21,677 fell into the final category. This was the case despite the fact that, in many patients, classic symptoms of heart attack like fainting, shortness of breath and chest pain were apparent days beforehand, according to the report’s authors.

Some of the researchers involved indicate that the reasons for such a high volume of heart attack misdiagnoses could relate to there being no obvious damage to the heart upon patients’ initial admission to hospital. Others maintain however that the real reasons could be more complex, and that further research is required, such as Prof Majid Ezzati, who stated the following to the BBC:

“We cannot yet say why these signs are being missed, which is why more detailed research must be conducted to make recommendations for change. This might include updated guidance for healthcare professionals, changes in clinical culture, or allowing doctors more time to examine patients and look at their previous records.”

The School of Public Health at Imperial College has echoed the need for further investigation, whilst the British Heart Foundation has called the report “concerning”, with Associate Medical Director Professor Jeremy Pearson stating:

“This study shows that large numbers of people who die of a heart attack have visited hospital in the month before, but have not been diagnosed with heart disease. This failure to detect warning signs is concerning and these results should prompt doctors to be more vigilant, reducing the chance that symptoms are missed, ultimately saving more lives.”

A spokesperson for the Royal College of Physicians has once more outlined medical professionals’ duty of care to patients in preventing misdiagnosis of heart attacks with the following statement:

“The challenge is to accurately and speedily diagnose all these patients so that they can be offered best care. Education of the public, of GPs, paramedics and Emergency Department doctors is essential if we are to improve even further the care we offer to patients having a heart attack.”

The Lancet report clearly indicates that some British physicians are failing to meet this duty of care towards patients. If you or a loved one have been the victim of a heart attack misdiagnosis, or are concerned about the care you have received in relation to your heart attack, you could be entitled to make a misdiagnosis claim. To speak to an expert medical negligence solicitor about whether you may be entitled to compensation, contact Blackwater Law for free initial legal advice today, on 0800 083 5500.

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