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Atrial fibrillation is the most common type of abnormal heart rhythm and happens because the electrical impulses driving the heart and pushing blood around the body become uncoordinated.
Symptoms include palpitations, feeling faint, being breathless or becoming tired and finding yourself less able to exercise. Some people do not have any symptoms and of course not all palpitations or irregular heartbeats are caused by atrial fibrillation.
Once atrial fibrillation has been diagnosed it must be treated correctly as it increases the risk of developing a blood clot inside the chambers of the heart. If a clot forms in the heart it can travel through the blood stream to the brain and ultimately cause a stroke. Doctors will assess a patient’s risk of having a stroke or another major complication in these circumstances to determine the best way to proceed.
Anticoagulants can be given to reduce the risk of blood clots forming and causing a stroke. The administration of anticoagulants itself carries additional risks which the doctor will balance against a risk of stroke in each individual case. However, once the decision to prescribe anticoagulants has been made it must be actioned as quickly as possible.
This is often the point where significant failings arise in the medical care provided. If you believe you have suffered from this type of negligence call us to chat about your case on 0161 785 3500.
Kenneth Lees, Clinical Negligence Solicitor, explains the impacts of Atrial Fibrillation, misdiagnosis and referral errors:
We are regularly instructed to consider the seemingly persistent issues that general practitioners have in dealing with patients presenting with symptoms of mild myocardial infarction or heart attack.
The patient’s medical history is critical in diagnosing heart attacks and sometimes may provide the only clues that lead to the diagnosis at the appropriate time during the patient’s presentation.
Patients with typical acute heart attack usually present with chest pain which is intense and unremitting for 30 to 60 minutes. It is usually a severe dull gripping or heavy pain in the centre of the chest radiating to the left arm or to the neck. Other symptoms can include shortness of breath, abnormal pulse, coughing, nausea with or without vomiting and profuse sweating. Initial rapid evaluation should include obtaining a brief history and performing a focused physical examination. Within the examination it is important for the GP to ask questions characterising the pain and the important associated symptoms and to evaluate the patient’s past history of or risk factors for cardio vascular disease.
Most GP practices have a policy governing the management of patients presenting with these symptoms which will usually mandate an emergency ambulance transfer to the local accident and emergency department.
We have recently dealt with a case where the General Practitioner failed to undertake a sufficiently detailed examination of the patient and the patient went on to suffer an avoidable heart attack. Cases like these highlight the importance of the clinical examination undertaken by GPs given the potentially devastating consequences of failure.