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Rise in misdiagnosis of heart conditions

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Lawyers are seeing a rise in the number of serious and potentially fatal heart conditions being misdiagnosed as acid reflux.

Slater and Gordon Senior Medical Negligence Lawyer Anne Shortall said each year she saw a number of cases where doctors had incorrectly prescribed patients with reflux medication – overlooking the clear signs of heart disease, which could easily be confirmed by conducting an electrocardiogram (ECG).

Ms Shortall’s client Glenn Richardson first visited his GP in December 2013, complaining of chest pain. During the initial consultation, Mr Richardson, 58, was told he had a common case of acid reflux, despite his history of tachycardia – a fast heart rate.

After the pain did not subside, he returned to the doctor twice more in January 2014 and was both times reassured that he was suffering from acid reflux.

Unfortunately, on January 29, the Phillip Island plumber was rushed to the Alfred Hospital to undergo triple-bypass surgery and spent 44 days in Intensive Care after suffering a massive heart attack at work.

One of his arteries was 99 per cent blocked with two others found to have been 50 and 40 per cent blocked.

The formerly active father of four is now housebound and continues to deal with severe complications including losing part of his bowel, suffering pneumonia and experiencing ongoing heart complications.

“My life has changed and it will never be the same, I’ve got 25 per cent of my heart muscle left so I really can’t do much,” Mr Richardson said.

“There’s no doubt that all this could have avoided of it had been picked up the first time.

“I wouldn’t wish this upon anyone else and it’s really disturbing that this is happening to other people.”

Ms Shortall said this frequent misdiagnosis was predominantly made by GPs. However she had seen a number of cases where hospital emergency departments had also made the mistake.

“Both conditions present with central chest pain,” Ms Shortall said.

“However, if there is any doubt, the doctor should instantly conduct or refer them on to get an ECG to prevent other people suffering like Glenn has.

“Of course there are people who suffer from acid reflux but many people suffer underlying cardiac issues and appropriate testing should always be done.”

Acid Reflux or Indigestion is caused by stomach contents backing up into the oesophagus and includes symptoms such as heartburn, regurgitation and dyspepsia (stomach discomfort). 

Anne Shortall on the rise of heart conditions being misdiagnosed as acid reflux