Women missing the beat: are doctors ignoring women’s cardiac symptoms?

woman mirror

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

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.

De Lori MoscaDr. 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.

Read the rest of Laura Flynn McCarthy‘s article in Your Total Health, or find out more about Dr. Lori Mosca’s book, Heart to Heart: A Personal Plan for Creating a Heart-Healthy Family.

See also: 


7 thoughts on “Women missing the beat: are doctors ignoring women’s cardiac symptoms?

  1. I’ve been thinking about this for a while and I’ve come to the conclusion that women’s heart disease needs a better PR firm.

    Breast cancer has branded really well. It started with pink ribbons and now it’s gone on to everything from Auto Nation to Major League Baseball.

    If we inundate the country with red ribbons and red dresses for not just a day, but for an entire month (like breast cancer seems to own October) perhaps we can raise awareness and educate women, their families, and even their physicians.

    We know that heart disease kills more women than breast cancer, but getting that information out is going to require some work. It won’t happen overnight, but within ten years…or less if we get lucky and loud….people will begin to notice.

    So…anyone up for a walk? A bike ride? Get your pledge cards printed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. We are singing from the same hymn book, Tommieo! I wrote about something similar here. Heart disease does in fact have its own “month” (February is Heart Month, although that’s open to both sexes). I just learned last week that here in Canada, our national Heart and Stroke Foundation is devoting its 2018 Heart Month Report to women’s heart disease.

      I thought that The Red Dress campaign could be just the PR vehicle that the cause of women’s heart disease so desperately needs (and it is a good start) – yet we clearly have a distressingly long way to go (as I just posted today in “Excuse Me While I Bang My Head Against This Wall“.


      Liked by 1 person

      1. Carolyn, I love the red dress campaign, and I’ve managed to lose two of the pins, darn it. Here in the US women have been encouraged to actually wear red dresses, but on one specific day.

        I always thought it was interesting that the biggest killer had the shortest month. And, being in February, heart disease sort of gets overshadowed by Black History month…also February. We need a new month…one we don’t have to share with something so high profile.

        Breast cancer didn’t really take off until the Susan Komen Foundation was started, and once they had enough money, they spent it wisely on a good PR firm that knew how to market them. With someone else doing the marketing, the people involved can concentrate on education, events, fund raising, etc, without having to publicize those things in addition to the organizing and planning.

        I don’t know about you, but I have no problem with the planning, organization, and execution of events of all kinds, but having to keep up with publicity campaigns and the deadlines that have to be met to get the best turnouts, seems to be something that no one really wants to deal with.

        I’m happy doing research…getting facts and figures together and organized, but then what to do with that information so that it reaches a very wide and diverse audience.

        These are the things that a good PR firm can do, but it takes money to make money…money that can be used for education, for research, for heart studies on women.

        I’m always gratified when I visit my cardiologist and see that usually a quarter to a third of his patients in the waiting room are men. He is one of the good guys.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Such a good point, Tommie – and one I’d never thought about: “the biggest killer has the shortest month!”

          As a lifelong PR person (in corporate, government and non-profit sectors), I know that you are absolutely correct: we need PR help to get the heart disease messages out. Much of the heavy lifting appears to be expected of heart patients (often the least likely and physically able to do that lifting!) many of whom are volunteering with WomenHeart, for example, even making annual in-person submissions to national politicians.

          I’m pretty sure, however, that organizations like the American Heart Association do indeed have a big PR firm on contract. Here in Canada, our national Heart and Stroke Foundation issued a heart failure report last year that included appallingly offensive images of half-dead patients sitting around waiting to die; this mess was stick-handled by a big Toronto ad agency, as I wrote about here.

          So just hiring PR folks doesn’t necessarily guarantee we’ll get the results we want – but it’s a start. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comments.

          Liked by 1 person

  2. Are doctors missing the beat? I’d say YES based only on this statement alone: “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.”

    Just another hysterical emotional woman…


  3. “…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…”

    This is unbelievable!!!!!


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