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Female heart attack patients fare better if treated by a woman

09 August 2018

Their chances were also improved if treated by a male doctor who had a lot of female colleagues in his team. In addition, the more female patients a male doctor had previously treated for heart attacks, the better the chances of survival a woman had.

If you're having a heart attack and you're a woman, hope a female doctor greets you in the emergency room.

A truly incredible study claims a woman who has a heart attack should probably insist on being treated by a female doctor. That gender disparity grew to 0.7% for patients in the care of male doctors: 13.3% of women died compared to 12.6% of men.

"These results suggest a reason why gender inequality in heart attack mortality persists: Most physicians are male, and male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients", the research team says.

A review of almost 582,000 heart attack cases over 19 years showed female patients had a significantly higher survival rate when a woman treated them in the ER, according to Seth Carnahan, associate professor of strategy at Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis and part of a three-member research team on the project.

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That said, the gender difference in doctors probably doesn't explain the entire gap in heart disease survival.

The comparative lack of research means that "male physicians might not pick up on the atypical presentation symptoms women more often show, or at least not to the degree that female physicians do", the study's lead author, Brad Greenwood, told CNN.

Heart disease is the number one killer of women and men in the US, and symptoms of heart attack can show up differently in men and women.

The research is similar to another Carnahan-Greenwood collaboration documenting how female lawyers were less likely to advance in their firms with promotions and plum assignments when they worked for politically conservative male law partners. Similarly, they might wrongly assume that women's heart attacks are just like men's, even though women can sometimes have different symptoms.

The new study highlights the importance of having "a strong female physician workforce", said Jennifer Haythe, co-director of Columbia Women's Heart Centre at the Columbia University Medical Centre. 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. Heart attacks are currently the leading cause of death among both American men and women across the economic spectrum, and now account for about a quarter of all fatalities in the United States, the researchers noted.

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There's a unusual gender paradox at the heart of cardiovascular disease.

Female doctors may also simply be performing at least some parts of the job better than their male counterparts do. "It could be you have spillover between physicians", he says.

"Medical practitioners should be aware of the possible challenges male providers face when treating female [heart attack] patients", the researchers wrote.

Writing in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Greenwood and colleagues describe how they looked at records from Florida of emergency department admissions for heart attacks between 1991 and 2010. "I would hope that in reading this leaders in emergency medicine-whether directors or department chairs-would consider that we are an asset beyond being a diverse workforce".

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Female heart attack patients fare better if treated by a woman