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Delay in Diagnosis of Heart Attack or Stroke Claims in Philadelphia

Heart disease is the leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for roughly 1 out of every 4 deaths. Many of those deaths are from a heart attack or stroke. Nearly 800,000 Americans have a heart attack each year – approximately one every 40 seconds – and about 15% of those heart attacks are fatal. Roughly the same number of Americans have a stroke each year, but stroke has a slightly higher death rate and is also a leading cause of serious long-term disability. The Philadelphia delay in diagnosis attorneys at Youman & Caputo are prepared to fight for justice on your or a loved ones’ behalf.

Resources for Delayed Heart Attack or Stroke Claims

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How Do Heart Attacks Occur?
Symptoms of a Heart Attack
How Do Strokes Occur?
Symptoms of a Stroke
Deviations From The Standard of Care
Common Causes of a Delayed Diagnosis
Treatments for Heart Attack or Stroke
Evaluating a Medical Malpractice Claim
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Delay in Diagnosis of Heart Attack or Stroke Claims in Philadelphia

How Do Heart Attacks Occur?

A heart attack (or myocardial infarction) occurs when the blood flow to part of the heart is blocked, usually by a clot. If the blockage is complete, that part of the heart begins to die. Treatment for a heart attack aims to restore blood flow. Treatment options range from medication to surgical and other procedures (including cardiac catheterization and bypass surgery). The more time passes after the heart attack starts, the more tissue dies. The patient’s survival and long-term prognosis, therefore, depend on prompt diagnosis and effective treatment. A patient who survives a serious heart attack may still require lengthy cardiac rehabilitation and potentially even heart transplantation.

What Are the Symptoms of a Heart Attack?

If a patient suffers a heart attack, he or she may notice several symptoms involving the chest as well as other parts of the body. Many of these symptoms are similar to other, less serious conditions, such as heartburn, pneumonia, anxiety and a panic attack. This can make a heart attack easy to overlook or misdiagnose – especially if a doctor is careless. Common symptoms associated with heart attacks include:

  • Chest pain or a feeling of tightness in the chest
  • Pain in the back, neck or arms
  • Shortness of breath
  • Sudden weakness
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Cold sweats
  • Anxiety
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Indigestion
  • Body aches
  • Disorientation or confusion
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness
  • Trouble sleeping

Heart attacks are often referred to as a “silent killer.” This is because the signs and symptoms can be subtle and not immediately noticeable, especially with a mini heart attack (which often comes before a major heart attack). The silent signs of a heart attack should never be ignored, however. The patient should immediately see a doctor, describe everything he or she is experiencing, and promptly follow the doctor’s instructions to undergo tests to check if a heart attack occurred.

How Do Strokes Occur?

A stroke happens when a blood vessel that supplies the brain gets blocked (ischemic stroke) or ruptures (hemorrhagic stroke). Ischemic strokes account for approximately 80% of all strokes and can be either thrombotic (the clot forms in one of the arteries that supply blood to the brain) or embolic (the clot forms elsewhere in the body and is carried through the bloodstream to the brain). As with heart attacks, time is of the essence in the treatment for stroke. The gold standard treatment for ischemic stroke is tissue plasminogen activator (tPA), which dissolves the clot and restores blood flow, but tPA can only be used within a short period of time (as little as 3 hours) of onset of the stroke. The treatment for hemorrhagic stroke is surgery or other endovascular procedure to stop the brain bleeding.

What Are the Symptoms of a Stroke?

Patients who experience strokes may notice minor to disabling symptoms, including permanent symptoms that may last for the rest of the victim’s life. When the necessary flow of blood to the brain gets blocked, a victim may notice a variety of physical and cognitive signs. Red flags that may point to a stroke include:

  • Severe headache
  • Cognitive deficits
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Weakness of the extremities
  • Blurred or double vision
  • Vomiting
  • Facial numbness
  • Facial drooping
  • Slow or slurred speech
  • Trouble walking
  • Imbalance or incoordination
  • Paralysis

Brain injury is a common outcome of strokes. A stroke could cause permanent brain damage, such as the death of brain cells due to the interruption of the oxygen and nutrients they need. This could alter brain function forever. Common misinterpretations of the symptoms of a stroke include migraine, vertigo and metabolic disorders. A Philadelphia brain injury attorney can explain the legal options available to you or a loved one after a stroke occurs.

What Are Deviations From The Standard of Care?

Deviations from the standard of care often involve the failure to recognize signs and symptoms of heart attack or stroke or significant delays either in obtaining the necessary tests or acting on abnormal results. Such delays can occur in an outpatient or inpatient setting, particularly in an emergency department with long delays before a patient actually sees a physician.

Heart attacks and strokes do not always present the same way, but each condition has a range of generally accepted signs, symptoms, and risk factors (both lifestyle and medical), and clear medical standards of care govern the diagnostic decision-tree and the interventions to be performed if the diagnosis is made. Medical malpractice cases arise in this context when health care providers fail to act in accordance with these standards of care, resulting in untimely diagnosis or treatment. The Philadelphia emergency room negligence lawyers at Youman & Caputo understand what to look for when an emergency medicine practitioner fails to accurately diagnose a serious medical emergency.

For example, women are more likely than men to have heart attack symptoms unrelated to chest pain, which sometimes leads physicians and “physician extenders” (like physician assistants) alike not to act with the necessary urgency. Occasionally, the delay can result from the simple but unfortunate human tendency (even in the medical profession) to “normalize the abnormal” – attributing concerning signs and symptoms to less serious conditions and failing to suspect a heart attack or stroke.

Common Causes of Delayed Diagnosis of Heart Attack or Stroke

A physician has a responsibility to properly evaluate a patient, analyze his or her symptoms, and order tests to come to a correct diagnosis. Unfortunately, negligent medical providers can make mistakes while treating patients that lead to dangerous misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses. Examples of medical malpractice that contribute to delayed heart attack and stroke diagnoses include:

  • Ignoring or overlooking patient symptoms
  • Mistaking a heart attack or stroke for a less serious condition
  • Failing to order an electrocardiogram
  • Failing to x-ray the chest or perform an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging)
  • Misinterpreting medical test results
  • Medical device malfunctions/inaccurate test results
  • Failing to recommend the patient to a specialist
  • Understaffed emergency room
  • Lack of communication among a medical team

Difficult presentation and a poor medical history can also contribute to delayed heart attack and stroke diagnoses in a patient; however, it is a physician’s duty to see past these issues and adequately assess a patient to make a proper and prompt diagnosis. If a member of a patient’s medical team makes a mistake, it could mean the difference between life and death for the patient.

Treatments for Heart Attack or Stroke

The timely diagnosis of a heart attack or stroke is critical since a patient with either of these conditions needs immediate medical treatment. Otherwise, a heart attack or stroke could cause permanent damage and death. While a patient’s treatment plan will depend on his or her medical history and diagnosis, some of the most common treatments for these conditions are:

  • Medicines, such as clot-dissolving drugs
  • Blood pressure medication
  • Balloon angioplasty
  • Thrombectomy to remove a blood clot
  • Stent placement
  • Blood transfusion
  • Percutaneous coronary intervention
  • Other surgeries
  • Compression therapy
  • Rehabilitation
  • A combination of these therapies and interventions

Both a heart attack and a stroke require emergency care. Prompt treatment is the best way to resolve the issue and minimize the harm to the patient. If a patient is diagnosed late (or not diagnosed at all), this can worsen his or her prognosis for recovery. In this scenario, the injured patient may be able to bring a medical malpractice claim for harm suffered due to a delayed diagnosis.

Evaluating a Medical Malpractice Claim

The Philadelphia medical malpractice plaintiff must prove that a delay in diagnosis caused or increased the risk of harm. Some heart attacks and strokes are so serious that it may be difficult to prove that the timeliness of the intervention had a significant impact on the outcome. In other cases, there is strong evidence that timely and appropriate intervention would have prevented serious permanent injury or death.

For this reason, the patient’s attorney must retain well-credentialed specialists (e.g., interventional cardiologists, stroke neurologists) to carefully evaluate the medical records in light of current medical literature and research and provide well-supported causation opinions.

How Youman & Caputo Can Help

If you or a family member or friend has suffered a heart attack or stroke that you think may not have been timely diagnosed or treated, contact our firm today to discuss delay in diagnosis of heart attack or stroke claims in Philadelphia. The attorneys at Youman & Caputo have investigated and litigated many cases involving the catastrophic consequences of significant delays in diagnosis of (or outright failures to diagnose and treat) heart attacks and strokes.