To Evolution

Women are more likely to die from a heart attack if their doctor is male

    Abdulaziz Sobh
    By Abdulaziz Sobh

    Categories: Beauty & Fitness, Health

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    There is a strange gender paradox in the heart of cardiovascular disease. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with heart disease in their lives than women, but women diagnosed are less likely to survive. A study conducted today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences offers a new theory for this disparity: it suggests that men, who represent the majority of doctors, are worse in the treatment of heart attack patients than their female counterparts.

    The researchers looked at the census records of more than half a million patients who visited an emergency room in Florida for a heart attack, which ranged from 1991 to 2010. The records not only detailed the final destinations of the patients but also They provided the names of their attending physicians, which the researchers used to determine their gender. To be sure, they excluded any ambiguously named doctor from their analysis.

    The reference rate for someone who died of a heart attack while in the hospital was 11.9 percent. But women who were treated by men were 12 percent more likely to die than the average patient, which means their absolute chance of dying increased to 13.4 percent. Among the patients who survived, women treated by male doctors spent more time in the hospital before being released, suggesting worse medical care.

    "This number seems small," study author Seth Carnahan, a researcher at the University of Washington in St. Louis, told Gizmodo by e-mail. "But if the survival rate among patients with myocardial infarction treated by male doctors was the same as that of heart attack patients treated by women, about 1,500-3,000 patients with myocardial infarction in our sample would have died."

    There was no such pattern when it came to doctors: their patients survived at almost the same pace, regardless of gender. In fact, patients treated by female doctors were more likely to survive than others.

    Because the study is observational, it can not provide any concrete answer as to why male doctors are lagging behind. But the authors throw some educated conjecture. Men can be worse at communicating with female patients, which makes them misinterpret the severity of the heart attack. Similarly, they may mistakenly assume that women's heart attacks are like those of men, although women may sometimes have different symptoms. And, of course, given how the doctors went with all the patients (along with the research elsewhere), it could be the case that male doctors are simply not as clever in general.

    That said, the gender difference in doctors probably does not explain the entire survival gap of heart disease. Women often have heart attacks at a later age, which increases the risk of a more serious one; They can also delay going to the hospital once they have a heart attack by minimizing or misinterpreting their symptoms at the beginning. These more atypical symptoms can include shortness of breath, nausea and vomiting, and back or jaw pain.

    "The most important thing that readers might want to take from our study is the difference in heart attack symptoms in men and women," Carnahan said. "Readers should know that women may be experiencing a heart attack, even though they do not experience chest pain. Reaching an ER in a timely manner is probably more important than the doctor's sex."

    The study findings suggest some tangible ways to improve care. Male physicians who treated more female patients in the recent past, or who had more female colleagues, had patients with higher survival rates, indicating that the experience, either practical or through peer observation, may Make a Difference.

    However, instead of relying on women to act as test dummies for inexperienced doctors, it would be better to stock our emergency rooms and health care centers with more female doctors.

    "I think this document draws attention to the problem that the medical community has been dealing with and moving forward for a while: differences in patient presentation and making sure that all patients get the care they need," added co-author Brad Greenwood. "I think the important thing is to emphasize the importance of understanding the diversity of the patient community and ensuring that the group of doctors is also diverse because we see that when there are more female colleagues present, the effect begins to improve."

    At the same time, the authors do not advocate that patients necessarily ask their doctors to match their gender. "There are large distributions in what we observe in the data: some male doctors are better at treating female patients than some female doctors," Carnahan said. "Patients must make sure that the doctor, regardless of gender, takes their concerns seriously."