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Why is it hard to identify a heart attack?

You were running with some of your friends when you felt an unusual sensation. Your chest was tight, and you felt lightheaded. Shortly after the symptoms, you passed out, but the emergency team that was called was able to stabilize you and take you in to the hospital for care.

There, it wasn't clear what happened. It was suggested to you that it may have been a panic attack and that everything appeared normal. A week later, you suffered a major cardiovascular event and ended up in an emergency surgery to correct a problem with your heart valve.

A missed diagnosis a dangerous issue for sick patients

Heart attacks can come on for many reasons, from stress to blocked arteries. In your case, it was a heart valve that wasn't working correctly that caused unusual symptoms.

Many people don't realize that there are different kinds of heart attacks. This is particularly dangerous in the medical field. Medical providers, especially in an emergency setting, need to know all the symptoms that they have to look for, not just the basics, like a crushing feeling in the chest or numbness in an arm.

Heart attacks mimic many other conditions

Since the symptoms of a heart attack vary, your heart attack could mimic other health conditions. For example, a patient who has asthma may feel like they can't breathe or that their chest is tight, which is similar to a heart attack. Someone with a pinched nerve may lose sensation in an arm. Anxiety attacks can also present similarly to heart attacks. Acid reflux and gastroesophageal reflux disease may also mimic the signs of a heart attack.

Knowing that there are many conditions that present similarly to heart attacks, it's essential that emergency and primary care providers don't see that a patient has one of these other conditions and ignore the possibility of a heart attack. While many of the conditions that mimic heart attacks are not dangerous, a real heart attack is life-threatening and should be addressed as quickly as possible.

Failing to address a heart attack when a patient comes to the emergency room the first time, even if they do stabilize, could mean that they are not able to get medical care the next time it happens. This could lead to serious injuries or death for patients who are unable to get help when they need it.

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