True or false? Every year, more women die of heart disease than men.
The answer is true, but if you didn’t know it, you’re in good company. In a survey of 500 American doctors (100 cardiologists, 100 obstetrician/gynecologists, and 300 family practice physicians) led by cardiologist Dr. Lori Mosca, only 8% of family doctors knew this fact, but – even more astonishing – only 17% of cardiologists were aware of it.
When it comes to women and heart disease, ignorance can be deadly. The misconception that heart disease is mostly a ‘man’s disease’ is one reason that women continue to be misdiagnosed or receive delayed treatment when experiencing symptoms of heart disease.
Dr. Mosca, Professor of Medicine and Director of Preventive Cardiology at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, explains that women patients often report that their complaints were dismissed or that they were “blown off” by their doctors when they presented with heart disease symptoms. Studies show that there is a gender bias out there that women need to be aware of.
” Our own research has shown that physicians are more likely to label a woman at lower risk for heart disease than a man with the same calculated level of heart disease risk.”
Consider these findings:
- In a recent study at Weill Medical College of Cornell University/New York-Presbyterian Hospital, 230 physicians were given hypothetical cases of men and women with identical symptoms of heart disease. Half of the case studies included reports that the patient recently had a stressful experience or felt anxious. When this detail was included, doctors diagnosed heart disease in 56% of men compared with just 18% of women. They referred men to cardiologists twice as often as women, and prescribed cardiac medications to almost half of the men, versus a paltry 13% of the women. Researchers concluded that in the presence of stress or anxiety, symptoms such as chest pain and shortness of breath were more likely to be attributed to anxiety in women, but seen as potential signs of heart disease in men.
- Another study at Tufts Medical Center in Boston found that among people who called 911 complaining of cardiac symptoms, women were 52% more likely than men to experience delays during emergency medical service care, a potentially critical difference because treatments for a heart attack are typically most effective when given within 1 to 2 hours of the start of the cardiac event.
- Diagnosing and Misdiagnosing
- Misdiagnosis: the perils of “unwarranted certainty”
- Heart attack misdiagnosis in women
- Unconscious bias: why women don’t get the same care men do
- Yentl Syndrome: cardiology’s gender gap is alive and well
- How can we get heart patients past the E.R. gatekeepers?
- When your doctor mislabels you as an “anxious female”