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An introduction to cardiology negligence

26/08/20  |  Misdiagnosis Claims

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Senior Nurse Advisor - Registered Nurse (SEN, RGN)

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The heart is the most important muscle in the body, and when something goes wrong with it, the outcome can be devastating.

Due to the seriousness of heart disease, treatment must be prompt and professional. In the vast majority of cases, healthcare providers do everything expected of them. However, a mistake, oversight or inaction can have grave consequences, which leads us into the topic of cardiology negligence.

In this article, we will outline the symptoms and risks of heart attack and cardiac arrest and explore what circumstances might result in a cardiology negligence claim, including misdiagnosis, negligence during surgery and inappropriate treatment.

How common is heart disease?

The impact of heart disease is often life-threatening. According to the British Heart Foundation, heart and circulatory diseases account for 27% of all deaths in the UK each year – that is the equivalent of around 170,000 deaths per year, or 460 deaths a day.

Sadly, especially as the average age of our population continues to climb, the presence of heart disease and conditions is increasingly common:

  • 7.4 million people in the UK live with heart or circulatory diseases
  • 280 hospital admissions each day are due to a heart attack
  • 13 babies every day are born with a heart defect

As a result of this and the risk involved in these conditions, death is an all-too-common outcome, even when a patient receives the most attentive and comprehensive care possible. Not all cardiac-related deaths are the result of negligence.

However, many cardiac conditions, although dangerous, are treatable and death can be avoided with appropriate and prompt treatment. Cases of cardiology negligence can result in patients dying or suffering from avoidable long-term health conditions or brain damage.

What is a heart attack?

When we think of issues that can harm the heart, heart attacks are among the most prominent events that spring to mind. A heart attack occurs when an artery which supplies the heart is blocked, typically by a blood clot, which prevents oxygen-rich blood from reaching a section of the heart.

Symptoms of a heart attack include the following:

  • Tightness or pressure on the chest, causing pain
  • Pain in your arms or shoulders, as well as occasionally areas like the jaw, neck, back and abdomen
  • Light-headedness or dizziness
  • Sweating
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Severe anxiousness (like a panic attack)
  • Coughing or wheezing

A typical example of medical negligence for heart attacks is a failure by a doctor, GP or another appropriately-trained medical professional to recognise these symptoms. This could mean that opportunities to treat the condition early are missed. Possible treatments include:

  • A coronary angioplasty, a procedure that widens narrow or blocked coronary arteries – will typically involve inserting a permanent stent to help blood flow, with this combination referred to as percutaneous coronary intervention (PCI)
  • The injection of thrombolytic or fibrinolytic medicines that break down blood clots
  • The implementation of a coronary artery bypass, using blood vessels from another part of the body (like the chest, arm or leg) and attaching it above or below the blockage

An incorrect diagnosis of symptoms can be fatal or lead to long-term health difficulties, such as:

  • Sudden cardiac arrest (ventricular arrhythmia)
  • Other forms of arrhythmia, whose symptoms can range from mild to life-threatening
  • Complete heart block
  • Heart failure
  • Cardiogenic shock
  • Heart rupture

Other circumstances that can lead to a cardiology negligence claim include:

  • Failing to perform the correct tests when a patient presents with symptoms of a heart attack, such as an electrocardiogram (ECG), blood test or angiogram
  • Failure to correctly analyse or recognise the presence of a heart problem in the ECG or other tests
  • Not informing the patient of the risks of cardiac catheterisation
  • Poor ongoing management of the patient who has suffered a heart attack or another heart complication, which could then lead to further difficulties
  • Failure to regularly monitor the wellbeing of the patient in the hospital

What is cardiac arrest?

Cardiac arrest is when an electrical malfunction in the body causes an irregular heartbeat. The disrupted rhythm stops blood pumping to critical areas like the brain and lungs, which leads to the person losing consciousness and not having a pulse. Without swift treatment, the patient may die within minutes.

Cardiac arrest can often occur without any prior warning signs, but conditions that may predispose to a cardiac arrest include:

  • Coronary artery disease
  • Heart attacks
  • Cardiomyopathy (an enlarged heart)
  • Valvular heart disease
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Electrical problems in the heart

It is also possible in some circumstances to spot early signs of cardiac arrest, which can include:

  • Chest discomfort
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Palpitations
  • Pain in the arms or shoulders

How to prevent a cardiac arrest

The best way to prevent a cardiac arrest or heart attack, or to prevent a further episode occurring if you have survived one, is to make fundamental changes to your lifestyle to improve the healthiness of your heart and arteries. The NHS suggests five ways this can be achieved:

  • Eat a balanced, low-fat, high-fibre diet
  • Undertake regular exercise (at least 150 minutes per week)
  • Lose weight if you are obese
  • Quit smoking if you are a smoker
  • Moderate alcohol consumption

Unfortunately, once a cardiac arrest begins, nothing can be done to reverse or prevent it from affecting the sufferer. Swift, decisive treatment to restore the person’s heartbeat to a regular rhythm is essential to give them a chance at recovery.

What can lead to an in-hospital cardiac arrest?

Because it is crucial to treat a cardiac arrest as quickly as possible, the safest place for one to occur is in a hospital. When comparing in-hospital vs out-of-hospital cardiac arrests, the rate of survival is around a third in hospital and only around 10% outside of it.

While having a cardiac arrest in hospital does not guarantee that the patient will survive, it does give the best chance both for survival and for limiting long-term health problems. This is because the medical team will be trained in how to treat cardiac arrest and will have immediate access to all necessary equipment.

Even in hospital, cardiac arrest is often a sudden, unexpected event, meaning it is not always possible to predict even with the most comprehensive monitoring and round-the-clock care. However, it can occur as a direct consequence of substandard treatment by the patient’s healthcare providers.

In addition, if a cardiac arrest is not detected as swiftly as it should have been, or the response time is slower than it should have been, and harm results from the delay, this can also be considered an incident of cardiology negligence.

As experts in cardiology negligence claims, as part of our investigations we will examine the symptoms that the patient reported when they were examined by their doctor, and our expert will consider whether a proper standard of treatment would have led to more prompt diagnosis and treatment

We will also consider the care and treatment the patient received prior to a cardiac arrest, such as.

  • Were tests carried out as promptly as they could have been?
  • While awaiting heart surgery, was a patient sent home rather than kept in the hospital for observation?
  • Was there a delay in response?

Establishing these is essential to determining whether there is a claim, which is why our medical negligence experts dedicate all the necessary time and resources to research

Making a cardiology negligence claim

As we noted earlier, exceptional care by medical professionals prior to or following a heart attack or cardiac arrest is no guarantee of a better result for the patient or their loved ones. Cardiac conditions can be dangerous even in the best circumstances and while in many cases these are treatable, survival or full recovery is not always achievable

However, given the significant risk and danger associated with cardiac conditions, any act of negligence can have devastating consequences to a patient and their family. From minor problems to death or brain damage.

Whether the symptoms of a heart attack were missed or misdiagnosed, or whether substandard treatment by a medical professional directly contributed to avoidable harm, we will take every step to establish a claim and achieve the compensation and justice you deserve.

If you would like to make a claim, talk to our team about your situation today. We work on a ‘No Win, No Fee’ basis, so any claim you bring to us carries no financial risk to you.

Disclaimer

All content contained within this article is meant for general information only – this should not be treated as a substitute for medical advice from your doctor or another healthcare provider. If you require legal advice specific to your situation, please contact our team directly.

Gadsby Wicks is not liable for any diagnosis made from the content of this article, nor does it endorse any service or external site linked to within the article.

Always consult your GP if you are concerned about your health and wellbeing, or speak to us if you require legal advice.