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Doctors miss heart attacks because of similar conditions

Considering the sheer amount of people who die annually from heart attacks and heart disease, you'd think doctors would have no trouble determining if someone is having a heart attack or not. However, the reality is that many doctors and patients themselves are often unsure exactly what's happening. It's not always as cut and dry as people assume.

Part of the reason is that you could get the same symptoms -- a shortness of breath, for example, and a burning feeling in your chest -- from other issues. You could have pancreatitis, for example, or you could be suffering from pneumonia. You may just be having a panic attack, something that gets even worse when you start believing that it's a heart attack.

Of course, a failure to diagnose a heart attack can be very dangerous and even fatal. If you do the right thing and go in, only to have the doctor send you home because he or she thinks it's not serious, that error could cost you your life.

Patients are warned that all chest pain doesn't mean a heart attack is happening. It could be, but it's less likely if coughing seems to bring on the pain or if you have a low level of pain and no other symptoms. It may also not be a heart attack if the pain is confined to a very specific area or if pressing on your chest makes it worse.

Naturally, though, the best thing to do is to seek medical help when you think you're having a heart attack. If a doctor's incompetence leads to a failed diagnosis and makes things worse, then it may be time to investigate your legal options for compensation.

Source: Harvard, "Is your chest pain a heart attack or something else? The Harvard Heart Letter discusses," accessed Feb. 17, 2017

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