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Decoding Heart Pains a Tough Call

February 07, 1996|THE BALTIMORE SUN

Being able to distinguish between heart attack pain and other chest pains is nearly impossible, even for doctors.

Deaths from misdiagnosed heart attacks account for most of the dollars paid out in malpractice lawsuits against emergency room doctors.

For every classic case, there is a twist. Some people have normal cardiograms for several hours into their heart attacks, says Dr. Henry Sabatier, an emergency medicine physician at Baltimore's Harbor Hospital.

In one study at the Cleveland Mayo Clinic, for instance, only 29 of 67 people having heart attacks were identified as such through their EKGs.

Also, men are more apt to have "classic signs" of heart attack than women (most likely because the symptoms were developed from male-only studies). Chest pain announcing a heart attack in women and many elderly people is often less severe and more intermittent.

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