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Heart of the Matter

Heart of the MatterNearly30,000 patients with heart attacks are misdiagnosed and sent homewithout treatment, reports a new Tufts study. Boston

Boston [07.16.03] Doctors know that heart attacks aren't limitedto middle-aged white men. But a new Tufts study suggests thatphysicians often misdiagnose the symptoms of heart attacks inpatients from other demographics -- including young women andminorities -- sending thousands of heart attack victims home withoutproper treatment.

“[Tufts’Dr. Harry Selker said] in a study of about 10,700 patients, atleast two percent of heart attacks and cases of unstable anginawere misdiagnosed in men and women," reported the LosAngeles Times. “The error rate indicates that about26,000 people having heart attacks are mistakenly sent home withoutadequate treatment each year, making it the most frequent causeof malpractice complaints.”

Accordingto Selker – the study's lead investigator and chief of clinicalcare research at Tufts-New England Medical Center – it’sa problem with serious consequences.

"[TheTufts expert said] those not hospitalized were about twice aslikely to die as those who were admitted," reported the newspaper.

The misdiagnosismay be caused, in part, by inaccurate medical stereotypes.

“Theclassic view we have of a person having a heart attack is a middle-aged,often white man, clutching his chest and going to the ground.And, of course, women have heart attacks frequently as well. It’sthe most common cause of death,” Selker, a professor atTufts’ School of Medicine, told CNN. “The kinds ofpeople we miss with heart attacks are those who in fact are notthe kind we expect.”

When theclassic heart attack symptoms don’t immediately emerge inthose patients, doctors can rule out heart attacks too quickly.

“Youngerwomen, minorities, those who have normal EKGs or don’t havechest pain – those are all people more likely to be missed,”the Tufts expert told CNN.

While menand women experience some similar symptoms during a heart attack,other warning signs can also occur in women.

“Themost common symptom is chest discomfort – I like to saydiscomfort, because its rarely just exactly pain. It can be discomfort,pressure – feeling like an elephant. [The discomfort] radiatessometimes to the back, sometimes to the jaw, to the teeth, tothe arms, especially the left arm," Selker told CNN. “Inwomen, it’s a little more likely that there will be shortnessof breath, maybe a little bit more likelihood of nausea. Generally,those are the symptoms we should all worry about, women or men.And when we have them, it’s probably time to call 911.”


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