While men and women complain of having similar symptoms, men’s claims are usually assessed as higher risk and taken more seriously. Discrepancies in treatment of men and women in the medical world might increase women’s risk factor when it comes to heart disease, a new study says, with care levels lagging far behind compared to men.
The study was conducted by a research team at the Duke Clinical Research Institute and looked at how doctors both diagnosed and assessed the risks involved with heart disease in more than 10,000 male and female patients. The patients were taken from the Prospective Multicenter Imaging Study for Evaluation of Chest Pain. The patients selected didn’t have a history of having a heart condition but were suspected of having coronary heart disease.
Typical initial symptoms of heart disease include chest pain and shortness of breath. When women reported having these symptoms, they did not receive the same level of care that men received. And even when women had more risk factors for heart disease than men, the researchers noted that women were assessed as having a lower level of risk.
One of the groups most at-risk for heart disease-related mortality, regardless of gender, is individuals over the age of 65, with 84% dying from the condition. However, this discrepancy in assessment can lead to grave consequences for women.
While researches observed that an equal number of men and women complained of chest pain, the pain itself is described differently. Men are more likely to describe it as an ache or burning sensation, whereas women are likely to call it tightness or pressure.
“Our findings suggest there might be need for heart-health resources specifically aimed at women because much of what is provided is for men, and there are significant sex-based differences,” said lead author Kshipra Hemal of the Duke Clinical Research Institute.
“Previous studies have compared differences in demographics, risk factors, and symptom profile between men and women, but most of these focused on patients with an existing diagnosis of heart disease,” said senior author Pamela Douglas, the Ursula Geller Professor for Research in Cardiovascular Disease at Duke University School of Medicine.
“Our study is the largest of its kind looking at patients with stable chest pain or other symptoms suggestive of coronary artery disease, which is a much more common occurrence,” Douglas continued. “Establishing a diagnosis is arguably more difficult among these patients. Our findings should help clarify that there are differences between men and women that we need to take into account.”