Women Treated by Female Doctors More Likely to Survive Heart Attack

A large study published August 6th in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America (PNAS) has connected higher heart attack survival rates to women patients treated by a female doctor. Heart attacks are the leading cause of death for both men and women in this country. According to the American Heart Association (AHA), a woman dies every 80 seconds from a heart attack. Women are also more likely to die from a heart attack than men, the reasons for which have never been proven.

Women MDs Linked to Heart Attack Survival
The study, entitled “Patient-physician gender concordance and increased mortality among female heart attack patients,” relied on hospital records of 582,000 heart attack patients in Florida hospitals over the nearly 20 year period between 1991 and 2010.

The study found that:

  • Of all Florida heart attack patients treated in a hospital emergency department by a MALE M.D.:
    • 12.6% of male patients died
    • 13.3% of female patients died
  • Of all Florida heart attack patients treated in a hospital emergency department by a FEMALE M.D.:
    • 11.8% of male patients died
    • 12% of female patients died
  • The death rate gap between men and women treated by a male physician translates to a .7% difference.
  • The death rate gap between men and women treated by a female physician translates to a .2% difference.
  • If the emergency department has a higher percentage of female physicians, no matter whom the treating physician is, the more likely a woman will survive a heart attack.
  • Female patients of male physicians with the most experience treating women heart attack patients have better survival rates.


Why Are Women More Likely to Die from a Heart Attack?
Prior to the study, one major theory as to why women are less likely to survive a heart attack is their own unfamiliarity with the symptoms, as well as the belief that they couldn’t be possibly be having a heart attack because it is primarily a male disease. Women are believed to be more likely to attribute heart attack symptoms to another less serious condition or ailment, leading them to skip the emergency room.

Lead study author Dr. Brad Greenwood, Associate Professor of Information & Decision Sciences at the University of Minnesota, believes that this same theory applies to male physicians who treat female heart attack patients. Many male doctors may simply be unlikely to consider a heart attack when a woman arrives in the ER with shortness of breath or chest pain. Greenwood also speculates that women patients and physicians might be more comfortable with another female, as well as more likely to be familiar with the symptoms of a heart attack in their own gender.

The American Heart Association lists these 5 symptoms as key indicators of a female heart attack:

  1. Uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain in the center of your chest. It lasts more than a few minutes, or goes away and comes back.
  2. Pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
  3. Shortness of breath with or without chest discomfort.
  4. Other signs such as breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness.
  5. As with men, women’s most common heart attack symptom is chest pain or discomfort. But women are somewhat more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea/vomiting and back or jaw pain.


Black and Hispanic Women Are Most at Risk of Heart Attack
Finally, the public’s misconception of heart attacks as mostly a male disease is something the AHA has been trying to change for years.

According to the organization, heart attack is the leading cause of death for black women. Nearly 50% of black women have cardiovascular disease, but the AHA says that among black women they surveyed only 14% believe it to be their greatest health problem.

The AHA also notes that, on average, Hispanic women develop heart disease 10 years earlier than Caucasian women. Among Hispanic women polled by the organization, only 1 in 8 say their physician has ever even mentioned watching out for heart disease.

If someone you love had a heart attack that was unrecognized or misdiagnosed during medical treatment, the medical malpractice attorneys of Chicago’s Levin & Perconti can help. For almost 30 years we have fought for families whose loved ones have suffered and died from a medical provider’s failure to recognize or treat a condition or illness. Many of our numerous verdicts and settlements include missed or delayed diagnosis and treatment of heart conditions, including those in women.

Contact our medical malpractice attorneys now for a free consultation at (312) 332-2872 or by completing our online case evaluation form.



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