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Research shows that three out of ten heart attack patients are wrongly diagnosed

Posted: 31/08/2016

Recently published research shows that three out of ten patients receive the wrong diagnosis following a heart attack, and women are 50% more likely to receive an initial incorrect diagnosis. 

The research, which was carried out at the University of Leeds and was partly funded by the British Heart Foundation (BHF), looked at around 600,00 heart attack patients who were admitted to 243 NHS hospitals in England and Wales over a nine year period. 

The study looked at the two main types of heart attack. The first and most serious type is referred to as STEMI. This occurs when there is a total blockage of the main artery that pumps oxygenated blood around the body. A patient with this type of heart attack will typically suffer a long interruption to the blood supply which can lead to extensive damage to a large area of the heart. 

The second main type of heart attack is called a NSTEMI and occurs when there is a partial blockage of one or more arteries. This can also cause serious damage to the heart muscle. 

Women in the study who suffered the most serious type of heart attack (STEMI) were found to have a 59% greater chance of initial misdiagnosis compared with men. Women who had a final diagnosis of the NSTEMI type had a 41% greater chance of an initial misdiagnosis. The associate medical director at the BHF, Dr Mike Knapton, said: "The difference between men and women is alarmingly high…"

The BHF emphasises that it is "vital" to receive a quick diagnosis and the correct treatment following a heart attack to ensure the best possible recovery. Women and men who received a misdiagnosis were about 70% more likely to die after 30 days compared with those who had received a correct initial diagnosis.

Camilla Wonnacott, a member of the Penningtons Manches clinical negligence team, said: “Initial misdiagnosis of heart failure is a regular theme in the enquiries we receive from patients and their relatives. We are here to assist if you are concerned that you or a member of your family has suffered injury as a result of substandard cardiac care.”

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