Heart Disease Misdiagnosis and Underdiagnosis – An Ongoing Crisis


The frequent misdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of heart disease is an ongoing healthcare crisis in the United States. An underdiagnosis is a consistent failure to recognize or accurately diagnose a disease or condition in a large population of people, such as women or minorities. A misdiagnosis is a delayed or incorrect diagnosis of an illness.


Although modern medicine continues to advance, cardiovascular diseases are still frequently misdiagnosed and underdiagnosed in the United States. Since heart disease sometimes comes with atypical symptoms and comorbidities, it can be difficult for many physicians to correctly diagnose a patient during their first appointment. 


To solve this issue, healthcare practitioners need access to adequate screening tools that allow them to accurately assess patients for signs of heart disease. Accurate screenings will put patients on the right treatment plan and on their way to recovery.


Heart Disease Misdiagnosis Statistics


In a 2021 medical study, researchers discovered that “misdiagnosis of heart failure ranges from 16% to 68% depending on the setting.” Heart disease is commonly misdiagnosed or underdiagnosed by physicians due to the wide variety of comorbidities that share similar symptoms to heart disease. Patients are frequently misdiagnosed as having conditions ranging from panic disorder and indigestion, to asthma and COPD. This study highlights the importance of fast and accurate cardiovascular screening tests to ensure that patients are put on the correct treatment plan as quickly as possible.


Although heart disease is the leading cause of death among all genders, races, and ages, heart disease is more commonly misdiagnosed in women. The reason is that symptoms present themselves differently in women than in men. While men frequently display telltale symptoms such as heart palpitations, jaw pain, sweating, and shortness of breath, women often have more atypical symptoms such as feelings of indigestion and back or shoulder pain.


According to studies, two-thirds of women who die suddenly from undiagnosed heart disease do not present the classic symptoms prior to their deaths. In many cases, women feel pain in other areas of the body, which makes it more difficult for doctors to pinpoint the root cause of their symptoms. Men, however, tend to feel chest pain or pressure that is a clearer indicator of a heart condition, making it easier to diagnose and treat.


According to one study of medical malpractice claims between 2011 and 2015, seventy percent of the closed claims found that the female patients died after being misdiagnosed or undiagnosed, with twenty-eight percent having damage to their heart muscles due to myocardial infarction. Most cases of undiagnosed heart disease occur under the care of primary care physicians who miss the warning signs of heart disease.


Common Misdiagnoses of Heart Disease


Since the symptoms of heart disease can range from mild to severe and from common to atypical, heart disease is often misdiagnosed as another health condition. Other diagnoses include anxiety, anemia, and kidney and lung diseases. Heart disease is most commonly mistaken as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). In one recent study, over eight percent of heart disease patients had been previously misdiagnosed with COPD and put on the wrong treatment plan. 


Remember, not every case of heart disease misdiagnosis is due to blatant oversight. Sometimes doctors simply identify the wrong heart disease subtype. These subtler diagnoses, however, can still lead to disastrous consequences.


When doctors misdiagnose patients, the disease has more time to advance and cause the patient serious, or even fatal, complications. The misdiagnosis of heart disease increases the chances of a poor outcome in two ways:


  1. The disease continues to advance undetected. 


  1. The patient may experience adverse effects when placed on the wrong medications.


Many patients with heart disease die suddenly, so it is crucial that they receive appropriate treatment in a timely manner. Despite the prevalence of cardiovascular conditions, cardiologists still have trouble diagnosing many patients in time for them to receive adequate treatment for their condition. To prevent serious illness and death, physicians need access to the most accurate screening tools to give their patients a better chance of recovery.


Reducing Misdiagnosis and Underdiagnosis of Heart Disease


To reduce the misdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of heart disease, many hospitals are creating new programs to educate doctors and the public about the more atypical warning signs of heart disease. Experts hope that more men and women will avoid delaying treatment if they are aware of the primary and secondary risk factors associated with heart conditions. These programs are created in the hopes that more doctors and patients will approach each case with an open mind and realize that heart disease is not always a black and white diagnosis.


In addition to education, healthcare practitioners need access to the most accurate screening tools available. Thankfully, Vasolabs provides practitioners with state-of-the-art diagnostic technology to screen for heart disease. Our wide range of tests are safe, non-invasive, and fast. For example, our ultrasound diagnostics provide accurate test results in just 30 minutes.


The purpose of these screenings is to equip providers to save lives and increase the quality of life for patients who suffer from heart disease. We partner with many healthcare practitioners to help them accurately diagnose and treat their patients and reduce the risk of future cardiac events. 

Let’s partner to reduce the misdiagnosis and underdiagnosis of heart disease. Click here to learn more about Vasolabs’ cardiac screening tools.


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