A: How does a doctor "fail to diagnose a heart attack?" In one of two ways: 1. He fails to recognize the signs and symptoms of an impending heart attack, or an ongoing heart attack, or 2. He fails to properly interpret the tests that were taken. Let's talk about #1 above. Typically, a patient will go to a hospital emergency room with complaints of belly or chest pain. The pain could be radiating from the chest to the shoulder or arm. The patient might be sweaty and clammy. They could be experiencing crushing chest pain. The problem arises when the patient's complaints are not typical for what is commonly seen in a heart attack victim. The words "heart attack" are a misnomer. What do I mean? The doctors refer to a heart attack as a "myocardial infarction." It basically means one of two things: (1) That part of your heart muscle has died, or (2) The blood vessel(s) that supply the heart with blood and oxygen has been cut off, causing part of your heart to starve and possibly die. When we hear that someone has had heart bypass surgery, it usually means that one or more of the blood vessels that supply the heart with blood and oxygen has been restricted or obstructed, and surgery was done to allow blood to 'bypass' or go around the obstruction. Sometimes when a patient presents to a doctor or an emergency room with an upset stomach or back pain, the doctor may not correctly interpret the symptoms, and may incorrectly diagnose the patient as having a gastric problem (a problem with their digestive system) and not a cardiac problem. The problem arises when the patient returns home and hours or days later, they die as a result of a 'heart attack'. Let's discuss #2 above, where the doctor incorrectly interprets the EKG or a stress test, and thinks it's normal, when in reality it is not. Again, the patient is discharged home with instructions on diet and exercise and to follow up with their doctor or cardiologist in a few weeks. Needless to say, the patient returns home and days, weeks, or even months later, the patient dies of a heart attack. What does a New York medical malpractice attorney look for when evaluating a claim of "failure to diagnose a heart attack?" Your attorney needs to know the following: 1. If you had been correctly diagnosed at the time you had symptoms, what treatment would you have had? Would you have had a stent put in your cardiac artery or vein (a stent is a device designed to open up a clogged artery or vein, and is put in using a catheter, instead of having major open-heart surgery)? Would you have received nitroglycerin to help ease the flow of blood and reduce your pain? 2. Would you have had elective open-heart bypass surgery? By elective, I mean that you have had time to discuss the surgery with your doctor and learn about the risks, benefits and alternatives to the surgery. Sometimes when a patient has had a heart attack, tests might reveal that many of the blood vessels supplying the heart are severely clogged. The patient may then need emergency bypass surgery, and you may not have a chance to discuss any alternatives, as there may not be any at that point. 3. If elective bypass surgery were done, and there was no blood vessel that remained clogged, would you have suffered the heart attack that you ultimately did? If the answer is no, then your potential malpractice case just got stronger. In other words, if your injuries were preventable if you had been timely diagnosed, you would not be in the condition you're in now. That's very significant and important. Recently, I had the privilege of representing a young man whose cardiac condition was misdiagnosed. He had gone to a hospital with complaints of chest pain that was incorrectly diagnosed. He was told to follow-up with his cardiologist to address his ongoing complaints of chest pain. Three months later, this young man suffered a devastating heart attack, killing off a large part of his heart muscle. When the records were reviewed by cardiologists (heart doctors) we learned that the doctors initially misread the diagnostic tests that were performed, and missed the key opportunity to perform elective heart bypass surgery. As a result of that failure, months went by where the young man continued to complain of chest pain. The heart attack has destroyed this man's life. Unfortunately for him, his heart attack was totally preventable. A heart attack may be preventable. Let your lawyer know what symptoms, if any, you had when you saw your doctor and what was done for you. Tell your attorney the details of what went on in the emergency room and what tests they performed to find out if you had or were having a heart attack. Prevention is always best. Knowing that a heart attack could have been prevented is second best.