How Car Accidents Can Result in Heart Attacks

Key Points:

  • Even people with no history of heart problems can suffer a heart attack after an automobile accident.
  • Blunt force trauma to the chest, can cause serious arrhythmia that can be fatal
  • Post–accident chemical reactions within the body can result in sudden and sometimes fatal changes to the heart itself 
  • Even when the accident clearly triggered the heart attack, insurance company attorneys will fight hard to avoid paying for injuries that might have a pre-existing component or that appear in the days or weeks after the accident

The tissue of the heart, known as the myocardium, is made of highly specialized cells that keep the heart beating and oxygenated blood flowing throughout the body.

Any disruption or injury to this system can trigger a heart attack. Because of the severe impact car accidents have on the body, ruptures or tears to the arteries,  damage to the heart’s valves, or injury to the muscle of the heart itself can trigger heart attacks or other heart damage.

Common heart conditions caused by car accidents

Commotio Cordis

In an accident, victims sometimes collide with the steering wheel, dashboard, or even airbag. Such forceful blows can cause blunt-force trauma to the chest, leading to Commotio Cordis, or sudden arrhythmic death caused by chest wall impact.

Takotsubo Cardiomyopathy 

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy (TCM) can happen when the left ventricle, which is the heart’s main pumping chamber, is weakened. This condition, also called “stress-induced cardiomyopathy” or broken-heart syndrome, is caused by severe emotional and/or physical stress.

Takotsubo cardiomyopathy causes the left ventricle to change shape and enlarge, weakening the heart muscle and making it more difficult to pump blood efficiently. The main symptoms are chest pain and shortness of breath.

Other Accident Related Heart Injuries

man in pain holding his chest.

During a stressful event like a car accident, the body immediately produces hormones and proteins, such as adrenaline and noradrenaline, to protect itself from immediate danger and help cope with stress.

Sometimes, the heart muscle can be overwhelmed by the massive amounts of adrenaline produced following a stressful event. This sudden excess of adrenaline can cause the small arteries of the heart to narrow, resulting in a temporary decrease in blood flow to the heart, causing a heart attack.

In addition, the adrenaline can bind to the cells of the heart, causing a surge of calcium to enter the cells. This sudden intake of calcium can stop the heart cells from beating properly, also causing heart attack symptoms including:

  • Chest pain
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Excess sweating

These symptoms may begin as soon as minutes or as long as hours after an emotionally or physically stressful event.

Chest Contusion

A chest contusion is an injury caused by a blow to the chest or other external force that does not necessarily break the skin, but injures tissues beneath the skin. Chest contusions can result in pain, swelling, tenderness, bruising, or a hematoma beneath the skin. A chest contusion may increase pain while coughing, sneezing, breathing deeply, or even laughing. This injury can also result in pain while lying down or walking.

A chest contusion often creates shortness of breath and a crunching feeling underneath the ribs. Additionally, it can lead to a higher risk of chest infection.

Other signs of cardiac contusion or bruising include:

  • Bruising of the chest wall
  • Tenderness and pain in the sternum or top of the ribcage
  • Racing heartbeat or arrhythmia
  • Pain that becomes worse with deep breaths
  • Lightheadedness or feeling faint
  • Shortness of breath
  • Weakness
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Wheezing
  • Coughing up blood

If signs and symptoms of a cardiac contusion exist, a physician may order additional evaluations to assess whether serious cardiac damage occurred.

Blood Clots Can Lead to Heart Attacks and Strokes

Blood clots can happen when your body is subjected to blunt force trauma, causing blood to pool inside the body around the site of the injury. When these clots form, sections can break away and move around inside the body through the blood vessels.

If the clots find their way into the heart, lung, or brain, they can restrict circulation of the blood to these organs, resulting in a heart attack, pulmonary embolism, or stroke that can be fatal.

Medical Specialists Who Can Examine the Heart Following a Car Accident

It is crucial to seek a medical evaluation as soon as possible after an accident. Depending upon the nature of your immediate symptoms, you may see specialists, including a cardiologist (a heart specialist), an orthopedist who treats bones and joints, or even a thoracic surgeon who is specially trained to treat injuries involving the organs inside the upper body and ribcage.

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Car Accident Heart Injuries Can Be Compensated

In Georgia, the law holds at-fault parties liable and requires them to compensate victims for their injuries. If an accident causes injuries that result in a heart attack or stroke, victims can seek compensation for related costs through an insurance claim against the at-fault driver.

Even victims with diminished heart health before the accident can seek compensation if the accident caused the condition to worsen or lead to a fatality. Unfortunately, getting insurance companies to pay for such injuries can be extremely difficult.

Insurance companies often try to avoid paying for injuries related to pre-existing conditions or injuries, such as some heart attacks. Their lawyers will take the position that something other than the accident – including the victim’s previous lifestyle choices – caused the attack, even though the accident actually triggered the cardiac event. In such situations, you may wish to retain an attorney experienced in proving and settling similar accident claims.

Getting full and fair compensation after an accident-related heart attack can be challenging, but an experienced attorney has the expertise to help.

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