Women & Heart Attacks

Did you know that women are significantly more likely to survive a heart attack if their emergency physician is a woman?

In 1991, Dr. Bernadine Healy, director of the National Institute of Health, wrote about the unequal attention and treatment women receive for multiple health conditions.

She called this the “Yentl Syndrome” – after the famous 19th-century I. B. Singer short story where the main character had to masquerade as a man to get an education. Dr. Healy wrote that women have to experience a “full-scale heart attack like a man before she can get equal treatment.”

For more on the topic of women not being heard, read our recent blog – What You Need To Know About How Your Sex Can Affect Your Medical Care.

Twenty years after Dr. Healy’s findings, Yentl Syndrome is still a major issue for women’s health. Just look at these statistics:

  • Heart disease is still the number one killer in women (1 in 4 deaths or approximately 290,000 in the U.S.).
  • The Center for Disease Control reports almost 2/3 of women who die suddenly of heart disease had no previous symptoms.
  • Over the past 30 years, heart-related deaths in women are far higher than in men.

Do You Have a Female Doctor?

Now, the gender of your treating physician is also a factor in your care!

2018 research shows that the gender of your physician can play an important part in how likely women are to survive a heart attack. The study reviewed 20 years of records of both men and women who were seen in Florida emergency rooms with heart attacks.

Here are the findings of this fascinating study:

  • Using data from 580,000 patients, the researchers concluded that women were more likely to die of a heart attack when they were treated by male physicians.
  • When a female patient in the study was cared for by a female ER physician they were 2-3 times more likely to survive than those treated by a male physician.

The lead author of the research confirms that female patients need to advocate for themselves to make sure they are heard and not dismissed. He also suggested that patients generally communicate better with caregivers of the same gender.

How Do You Make Yourself Heard?

Here are 3 great self-advocacy tips:

  • Know when to get help: A heart attack doesn’t always start with sudden, crushing pain.
    Common symptoms include breaking out in a cold sweat, feeling unusually tired (sometimes for days), nausea, sudden dizziness, or a sudden onset of pain, or pain that doesn’t go away.
  • Call 9-1-1: Acting fast can save your life. Don’t allow pride or embarrassment keep you from getting immediate care.
  • Speak up once you get to the hospital: Explain any family history of heart disease, your risk factors, and what symptoms you are experiencing. Don’t worry about showing your emotions and remember you deserve to be heard.

As I’ve shared, heart disease is not a ‘male’ condition. Women who are rushed to the emergency room with chest pain deserve the same level of attention, appropriate testing, and treatment that men receive.

The sad reality of this research is that the “Yentl Syndrome” is still a concern for women who experience heart attacks. The biggest gap in care is in women under the age of 50 who experience heart attacks.

This proven research is another wake-up call for all of us that we need to band together to find ways to get better health care and outcomes. You should really consider finding a female health advocate if you are still unsure of how to self-advocate. That’s what I’m here for… read what others are saying!  All of us should work together for our own health as well as the health of all of the women in our lives.