At the WomenHeart Science & Leadership Symposium last fall, Mayo Clinic cardiologists told us that, when it comes to women, heart disease is much more than an equal opportunity health threat. Women with heart disease are underdiagnosed (and undertreated even when accurately diagnosed) compared to men presenting with the same condition. And we also have more deadly outcomes compared to men.
Did you know that more women than men die of heart disease each year in North America? What I found particularly appalling was a 2005 American Heart Association study that found only 8% of family doctors were aware of this fact, and (even worse!) only 17% of cardiologists were aware.
Here are some other examples that may help to explain gender bias in diagnosis and treatment of women’s heart disease:
- In the past, most of the major cardiovascular research studies were conducted only on men.
- Both physicians and patients often think of women’s heart attack symptoms as being non-cardiac-related.
- Women may avoid or delay seeking medical care.
- Women’s older age and their more advanced stage of coronary heart disease can affect the treatment options available.
- Some cardiac diagnostic tests, like the treadmill stress test, may be less accurate in women, especially for ‘single-vessel’ heart disease that’s more common in women than in men.
Source: Is It Gender Difference or Gender Bias? © 2009 American Heart Association
January 31, 2016: The American Heart Association released its first ever scientific statement on women’s heart attacks, confirming that “compared to men, women tend to be undertreated“, and including this finding: “While the most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort for both sexes, women are more likely to have atypical symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea or vomiting, and back or jaw pain.”
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