You’ve heard that heart disease is striking American women in growing numbers—and that our symptoms are different than those in men. For instance, men experience heart attacks as you see them in the movies—intense chest pain—while women get milder precursors such as indigestion and pain in the jaw, arms and back.
But here’s a new twist: In the United States, females are less likely than males to survive heart attacks, even when their age is controlled for. These findings emerged as researchers studied almost 20 years’ worth of patients in Florida hospitals and recently published the results in the Proceeding of the National Academy of Sciences. It seems one key variable that impacts whether a woman will survive or not is the gender of the doctor caring for the ailing female.
Why It’s Life or Death
Researchers Brad Greenwood, Seth Carnahan, and Laura Huang discovered that women suffering heart attacks are more likely to die when cared for by male doctors, compared to both men treated by a male doctor and women treated by a female doctor. “These results suggest a reason why gender inequality in heart attack mortality persists: Most physicians are male, and male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients,” the team wrote.
“A significant number of life’s outcomes are not determined through self-advocacy. Instead, they result, at least in part, from people who advocate for, and act on, a person’s behalf,” the study also states—and there’s reason to believe that a female doctor might be a better advocate for women who are having a heart attack.
They are not in any way saying that male doctors provide women with poor care, but perhaps female doctors and female patients have a better rapport when it comes to describing symptoms. Whatever the case may be, it certainly gives the medical industry reason to start reinventing how doctors are trained to practice, with a special emphasis on the role of gender.