Women more likely to survive a heart attack with female doctors

Male doctors are believed to misdiagnose heart problems for women or underestimate their risks

Women who have heart attacks are less likely to die if they see a female doctor.

Medical practitioners should be aware of the possible challenges male providers face when treating female AMI patients-for example, a propensity among women to delay seeking treatment and the presentation of symptoms that differ from those of men.

If you're a woman rushed to an emergency room during a heart attack, the gender of the physician treating you, could make a life-or-death difference.

A truly incredible study claims a woman who has a heart attack should probably insist on being treated by a female doctor.

For both men and women, the same advice on preventing heart attacks applies - and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 80 percent of heart disease, especially heart attacks, can be avoided by modifying lifestyle behavior.

Now researchers say the gender of the doctor might affect female patients' chances of survival.

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.

Research shows that women are more likely to die if they are treated by a doctor of the opposite sex, but men are at no disadvantage. This could help them to pick up on heart attacks, even if women have more atypical symptoms.

That's the takeaway of new research by Harvard Business School associate professor Laura Huang and her coauthors, Brad Greenwood of the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities and Seth Carnahan of Washington University in St. Louis, in an article to be published this week online in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). "But, if the survival rate among the female heart attack patients treated by male doctors was the same as the survival rate among female heart attack patients treated by female doctors, about 1500-3000 fewer of the female heart attack patients in our sample would have passed away". Even after accounting for these factors, women were still less likely to survive when treated by a male ER doctor.

That doesn't mean we can only be healthy if our doctor looks just like us. While it's clear that male physicians are better at taking care of men with heart attacks than women, "it's harder to tell if female physicians have no such gender disparity because their numbers are so small". But a new study has revealed that, when it comes to certain conditions, whether your doctor is male or female could actually impact on your chances of survival. Or there could be a bias that favors men in the medical literature (in which heart attacks are better understood when they happen in men), leading to misdiagnoses in women.

Such a scenario might also explain another of Greenwood's findings: The more female colleagues a male emergency physician had, the more likely his female patients were to survive as well.

"The key takeaway is that male physicians appear to have trouble treating female patients", Greenwood said.

"It's important to not get caught up in the idea that women are better doctors", said Dr. Klea Bertakis, a physician and researcher at the University of California, Davis, who studies gender dynamics in health care.



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