Recent studies from the American Medical Association show that a woman entering an emergency room suffering from a heart attack is 12 percent more likely to die if treated by a male doctor. Women also wait 20 percent longer than men to be treated after arriving at an emergency room.
While the reasons for this are unclear, the most plausible reason is that men have trouble spotting the symptoms women experience when suffering from heart failure.
The Difference Isn’t Obvious
Women experience heart attacks differently than men. Women often have shortness of breath, extreme fatigue, dizziness, nausea and vomiting, back and jaw pain, and a myriad of other atypical symptoms. Men are much more likely to experience severe chest and arm pain. Men dominate the medical field, so the chances that a woman experiencing a heart attack may be treated by a male doctor are fairly high.
Some research published in the journal Proceedings of The National Academy of Sciences of The United States of America (PNAS) suggests that male doctors who more frequently take care of female patients may have a better understanding of the signs and symptoms women present with when checking into an emergency room with heart-related complications.
This research also found that male physicians surrounded by female colleagues are also more likely to take female heart-related complaints seriously, which is why it’s important for emergency rooms to be populated by both female and male physicians.
Treatment Methods Matter
An article published in the journal Current Cardiology has found that not only do women wait 20 percent longer to see a doctor but also, they do not receive the same treatment as men. The study found that women are less likely than men to receive statins, ACE inhibitors, and aspirin.
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Researchers link the type of care given to women suffering from heart attacks directly to survival rates. 26 percent of women die within one year of having a heart attack, and five years after a heart attack happens, 50 percent of women die. These numbers could drastically change if male physicians were more aware of female heart attack symptoms and if women were given the same treatments as men when checking into an emergency room.
Diversity Is Key to Post-Heart Attack Survival
Diversity in the medical workplace will not only improve morale, but it will also arguably save lives. All practitioners (male and female) should be trained on the unique differences between gender-specific heart-attack symptoms. Both men and women should be given the same treatment course when seeking emergency room care. It is also vital that women are aware of potential heart-attack symptoms and communicate these concerns to emergency room staff.
Workplace Bullies Can Threaten the Heart
The lens of diversity in medicine and among physicians is often cast on the physicians themselves. Although the care of heart disease is well outside of my expertise as an orthopedic surgeon, the example is near and dear to me in my quest to improve the unacceptably low percentage of women in my field. As a society, we need to demand that our doctors represent us in sex, gender, ethnicity, and socioeconomic upbringing, to assure equal care for all.