Harvard study issues shocking warning for female heart attack victims

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They also found that, even if a woman was treated by a male doctor, she was more likely to survive if the emergency department had a high number of women doctors who had previously treated heart attack patients working on it. Dr Brad Greenwood, associate professor of association and decision sciences at the university, suggested that the stereotype of heart attack victims as overweight, middle-aged men may contribute to the outcome.

"Having training programs that are more gender neutral, or showing how men and women might present symptoms differently, could improve outcomes for female patients", Carnahan said. "If they are concerned that they may be having a heart attack they should ask the treating physician - man or woman - if they have had an appropriate evaluation to determine this, and if not, why not".

"The most important thing that readers might want to take from our study is the difference in heart attack symptoms across men and women", Carnahan said. Overall, 12 per cent of patients died.

"Our work corroborates prior research showing that female doctors tend to produce better patient outcomes than male doctors", study author Seth Carnahan, PhD, Olin Business School, Washington University in St. Louis, St. Louis, MO, said in a statement.

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As well as looking at the patients' age, gender, and whether they had other health problems, the team also looked at whether the patient died during their stay in hospital and whether the emergency room doctor primarily looking after them was a man or a woman.

Women suffering from a heart attack are more likely to wait before seeking medical treatment and are less likely to be taken to a properly-equipped hospital, making them almost twice as likely (12 percent) to die in the hospital than men.

"There are inequalities in a lot of different contexts, but when someone is suffering from a heart attack, you might expect that there would be no gender differences because every physician will go in trying to save their patient's life", says Huang, a professor of organizational psychology at Harvard Business School.

But why? Some experts have suggested it may be because women's symptoms are different than men's, or that they tend to delay treatment more often than men. Or is it because most doctors are male, and not enough women are diagnosing heart attacks in female patients?

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Further analysis showed that men and women had similar chances of survival when they saw female doctors.

Emergency doctors and cardiologists, however, are wary of jumping to conclusions just yet. In the new study everyone was more likely to survive if they saw a female physician, and a study published a year ago in JAMA Internal Medicine indicated all patients of female physicians had lower mortality and hospital readmission rates.

However, for patients treated by male physicians, the gender gap in survival more than tripled to 0.7 percent.

The gender survival difference was highest under male physicians. "A male physician sees a female physician treat a female patient successfully, and sees potential cues".

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