We’ve known for a long time that women have a higher risk of dying from heart attacks than men. In fact, heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the United States. However, researchers have been unsure about the causes of this gender gap. A recently released study may shed some light on the issue, and interestingly, it may have something to do with the gender of the attending doctor.
The study, published this past summer, suggests that women are more likely to survive a heart attack when treated by a female doctor rather than a male doctor. The researchers – Brad N. Greenwood, Seth Carnahan, and Laura Huang – examined more than 580,000 records from Florida emergency rooms for every patient admitted for a heart attack between 1991 and 2010.
Their results? Female ER doctors had a better overall performance than their male peers, even after taking into account patient age, race, and health conditions. Specifically, 13.3% of women and 12.6% of men who saw a male doctor died from their heart attack. To compare, 12% of women and 11.8% of men who saw a female doctor died.
It’s true that these look like very small differences, but these numbers get bigger and bigger if you consider the total number of heart attacks annually. Study co-author Seth Carnahan says, “If male doctors had the same mortality rates for their patients that female doctors do, there’d be about 100 fewer deaths of female patients in the state of Florida per year.”
Researchers believe one of the contributing factors to these gender disparities is that men and women typically display heart attack symptoms differently. Women may not display the signs we associate with a heart attack, like chest pain. Instead, they may have a variety of generalized symptoms, like nausea, fatigue, or dizziness. Sometimes these differences can cause doctors to miss the signs of the heart attack.
The good news? Although these symptoms do make cardiac events more difficult to diagnose, the study suggests that male doctors are learning to recognize the signs of heart attacks in women. They also found that male doctors usually performed better if they had treated a lot of female patients in the past, or worked in ERs with many female colleagues.
“It could be that there’s knowledge spillover happening,” Carnahan said. “Maybe female doctors are more likely to put in policies and practices that cue their colleagues to these gender differences in heart attack symptom presentation.”
Carnahan warned that the research team is not recommending that patients try to match their doctor to their gender. “The main takeaway is you have to really be an advocate for yourself in the emergency room,” he said. “Regardless of the doctor’s gender, you have to be sure your concerns are being taken seriously.”
It’s crucial that everyone recognizes the correct signs of a heart attack. The American Heart Association has more information about women and heart disease.
A missed diagnosis is just one form of medical malpractice. The attorneys at Crandall & Pera Law can help when you were injured by a doctor or other medical professional. If you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Please call 877-686-8879, or fill out our contact form, and schedule your free consultation with an experienced lawyer at one of our offices in Ohio or Kentucky.