A new briefing from the British Heart Foundation says women are dying of preventable heart attacks from a gender gap in treatment and a stigma that heart attacks mostly affect men.
A study, funded by the BHF charity, found that over 10 years, 8,200 heart attack related deaths in the UK would have been prevented if women had received equal medical treatment. Chris Gale, a cardiovascular medicine professor at the University of Leeds and a lead author on several of the studies covered in the briefing, says “on their own, the differences in care are very small, but when we look across the population of the UK, it adds up to a significant loss of life.”
Heart attacks have never been more treatable. In the 60s, seven out of of ten heart attacks in the UK were fatal. Now, seven out of ten people who have heart attacks will survive. Yet, women are suffering from these preventable heart attacks. According to Dr. Sonya Baba-Narayan, associate medical director of the BHF, the studies done “revealed inequalities at every stage of a woman’s medical journey, and although they are hard to dissect, they suggest unconscious biases are limiting the survival chances of women.” The results show women are 2.7% less likely to be prescribed statins and 7.4% less likely to be prescribed beta blockers when leaving the hospital after being admitted for a heart attack. Additionally, as well as being more likely to receive substandard treatment, women suffer 50% higher rates of misdiagnosis.
In conjunction with a difference in medical treatment, the stigma around heart attacks and a lack of information are also affecting women. Heart attacks are often seen as a man’s disease and this stigma is proving detrimental. Julie Ward, a senior cardiac nurse at British Heart Foundation, says that “most women don’t recognize the symptoms. They don’t seek medical treatment and they don’t get help.” Women take longer to arrive at the hospital after experiencing symptoms, according to the BHF study. Women are also 80% more at risk for heart disease if they have high blood pressure, and 50% if they have type two diabetes.
Gale claims that “this problem is not unique to the UK — studies across the globe have also revealed gaps in treatment, suggesting this is a deeply entrenched and complex issue.” The BHF report states “unconscious biases are limiting the survival chances of women.”
Sources: Independent 9/30/19, BBC 9/30/19, CNN 9/30/19, SkyNews 9/30/19