Women with heart attacks more likely to die when treated by men

7 August 2018        

Category: BHF Comment

Research shows that women are more likely to die if they are treated by a doctor of the opposite sex, but men are at no disadvantage. 

Doctor and patient consultation

Scientists from the University of Washington, who conducted the research, said the difference may be caused by male doctors underestimating the risk for women and misdiagnosing heart problems for other symptoms. 

A review of nearly 582,000 heart attack cases over 19 years showed female patients had a significantly higher survival rate when a woman treated them in the emergency room. 

The study also showed that women had a better survival rate with male doctors who have a lot of female colleagues in the emergency room, and male doctors who had more experience treating women, but not more than if they were treated by a woman. 

Maureen Talbot, Senior Cardiac Nurse at the British Heart Foundation, suggested the findings could also be explained by basic misunderstandings about the risk of heart attacks for women. 

She said:  “The stereotypical heart attack patient is often thought to be a middle-aged man with a poor lifestyle. But the reality is very different, with heart attacks affecting a large spectrum of the population, including thousands of seemingly healthy women every year. In fact, more women die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer in the UK. Our research has already shown a worrying difference in the treatment given to men and women suffering from heart attacks, and inaccurate stereotypes may be a contributing factor. 

“While this study supports this theory, more research is needed in UK hospitals to see if the bias exists here. It’s important that we better understand what is causing this variation in care, and the BHF is already funding research in to how we can improve the outcomes of women who have a heart attack.

“It’s important to remember that most heart attack patients are seen by a number of hard-working paramedics, nurses, healthcare assistants and doctors. Improving outcomes for these patients relies on everyone working together effectively, and not just the physicians.”