When it comes to receiving medical treatment after a heart attack, you wouldn’t think being a man or a woman would have any impact on the care received. But a study has revealed the shocking truth – that women often receive poorer medical care after heart attacks than men.
The study analysed treatment of 7783 patients at 43 Australian hospitals between 2009 and 2018. Participants had suffered either unstable angina or a type of heart attack known as a ‘non-ST elevation myocardial infarction’ or ‘non-STEMI’ heart attack.
Rather than a case of misogyny, the study authors say that there may be an unconscious bias at play.
“Despite the way we think we’re practising, we are still innately conservative and under-treating women for whatever reason,” lead researcher Professor David Brieger told The Guardian.
“I think we have to be aware of that and consciously address it.”
The standard procedure for non-STEMI patients is to perform an angiogram to identify any blockages in the coronary arteries. The study revealed not just that a smaller proportion of women than men were given angiograms, but that when they were approved it was at a much later stage than for men.
“We’re not sure whether that reflects the fact that they presented to hospital later, or the decision to do the angiogram was delayed in some way,” Prof. Brieger says.
This bias against giving women more serious treatment may be rooted in the fact that when women have blocked arteries, they tend to be less severely blocked than men’s. Because of this, women are less likely to need stents or a bypass. This may also be inadvertently leading to a lower likelihood of receiving proper treatments.
Previous studies have shown that women receive worse medical care than men for other types of heart issues and for medical problems in general. Women presenting with symptoms of any kind have reported being ignored or dismissed, even by female doctors.
It’s not entirely clear why this bias exists, but some physicians believe it is related to outdated scientific conventions.
“The origins of this situation go back many years,” says Dr Janine Clayton.
“Much of medical science is based on the belief that male and female physiology differ only in terms of sex and reproductive organs. Because of this, most research has been conducted on male animals and male cells.
“We now know that sex affects cell physiology, metabolism, and many other biological functions; symptoms and manifestations of disease; and responses to treatment.”
Have you or any of the women in your life ever received sub-par medical care? What should we do to ensure women get the treatment they need? Let us know in the comments section below.
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