NBC News: Medical mistakes are more likely in women and minorities

By Liz Szabo

Hundreds of thousands of U.S. patients are harmed or die each year because of diagnostic errors. Women and minorities are up to 30% more likely to be misdiagnosed than white men.

Charity Watkins sensed something was deeply wrong when she experienced exhaustion after her daughter was born.

At times, Watkins, then 30, had to stop on the stairway to catch her breath. Her obstetrician said postpartum depression likely caused the weakness and fatigue. When Watkins, who is Black, complained of a cough, her doctor blamed the flu.

About eight weeks after delivery, Watkins thought she was having a heart attack, and her husband took her to the emergency room. After a 5½-hour wait in a North Carolina hospital, she returned home to nurse her baby without seeing a doctor.

When a physician finally examined Watkins three days later, he immediately noticed her legs and stomach were swollen, a sign that her body was retaining fluid. After a chest X-ray, the doctor diagnosed her with heart failure, a serious condition in which the heart becomes too weak to adequately pump oxygen-rich blood to organs throughout the body. Watkins spent two weeks in intensive care.

She said a cardiologist later told her, “We almost lost you.”

Watkins is among 12 million adults misdiagnosed every year in the U.S.

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