In Women's Heart Attacks, a Doctor's Gender Matters

Chance of death is greater with male doctor: study
By Arden Dier,  Newser Staff
Posted Aug 7, 2018 5:06 PM CDT
A senior patient speaks to a female doctor.   (Getty Images/sturti)

(Newser) – Women suffering from a heart attack seem to have a better chance of survival if they're treated by a female doctor, according to a new study in PNAS. Using data on 582,000 heart attack patients admitted to Florida emergency rooms from 1991 to 2010, researchers found that women treated by male doctors were 1.5% less likely to survive than males treated by female doctors. Reuters frames it this way: If 1,000 women went to the ER with a heart attack, 15 more would die if treated by a man. Survival rates also increased if there were many female physicians in the ER, suggesting that female doctors assist their male colleagues in diagnosis, per the Guardian.

So what's going on? "Since heart disease is often cast as a 'male' condition, 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," says lead author Brad Greenwood. While more research is needed, "the key takeaway is that male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients," he adds. That doesn't mean female patients should seek out female doctors, who presided over just 10% of the study cases, per Reuters. While calling for better gender diversity in medicine, the study authors note that careful evaluations of symptoms could prevent critical delays in treatment. (Breastfeeding may help the heart.)

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