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Failure to Diagnose

Chest pain is perhaps the most recognizable symptom of a heart attack, but sometimes it is minimal or not present at all. A patient suffering from one of these silent attacks may disregard other symptoms or not notice them. All heart attacks, diagnosed or undiagnosed, pose a serious threat, so it is crucial that Massachusetts physicians be aware of the risk of silent heart attacks.

Silent heart attacks are not uncommon in the United States, and a report by CBS News based on a recent study suggests that pain tolerance may be a relevant factor in diagnosis of these attacks. Participants in this study underwent several tests, including a test for sensitivity to pain that involves plunging one’s hand into cold water for as long as is tolerable (with a maximum time limit of two minutes). Participants also received electrocardiograms to identify previous heart attacks, either diagnosed or undiagnosed.

Among the men who took part in the study, 19% had a previous history of heart attacks compared to 7% of women. Interestingly, although more than half of these attacks had gone undiagnosed among men, the proportion of silent attacks was significantly higher among women.

As indicated in this and previous studies, heart attacks in women have a lower probability of being diagnosed but a higher likelihood of coming with nonstandard symptoms. The results of this research mean that doctors must remain vigilant for atypical heart attack symptoms, particularly among female patients.

According to Mayo Clinic, heart attack symptoms tend to be mild at the start and may be present only intermittently. Apart from chest pain, there are a number of warning signs that patients and doctors alike should not ignore. These symptoms include lightheadedness, nausea, vomiting and shortness of breath. The attack may be accompanied by an unexplainable feeling of anxiety. In addition, pain may not be localized to the chest but may occur in the stomach or elsewhere in the upper body, including the teeth, jaw, neck, shoulders, arms and back. Anyone experiencing these symptoms should seek immediate medical attention.

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