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Fatal heart attack symptoms missed by doctors in one in six cases

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Around 16 per cent of people in the UK who died from a heart attack (myocardial infarction) had been admitted to hospital in the previous 28 days, and doctors had failed to diagnose the problem.

Even obvious symptoms such as chest pain, breathlessness (dyspnoea) or sudden loss of consciousness (syncope) were missed by hospital doctors, say researchers from Imperial College London.

A heart attack was correctly diagnosed in around 69 per cent of cases when the patient was first admitted to hospital, and a further 12 per cent of cases were identified by another doctor later on.

The researchers reviewed 135,950 cases of heart attack deaths, and how they were treated in English hospitals, between 2006 and 2010. More than 21,000 patients who died from a heart attack were never properly diagnosed according to their hospital records.

Typical symptoms of a heart attack include:

  • Chest pain, including pressure, tightness or a squeezing sensation. The pain can be severe or minor, when it has been compared to indigestion pain. Some women, the elderly and diabetics often don’t experience any pain
  • Pains in other parts of the body, especially the arms – particularly the left arm – jaw, neck, back and abdomen
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath or breathing difficulties
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • A strong sense of anxiety, like a panic attack
  • Coughing or wheezing.

(Source: Lancet, 2017; February 28, 2017: doi: http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/S2468-2667(17)30032-4)

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