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Gender ignorance can lead to worse medical outcomes for women

It is well documented that men and women are different in some important and fundamental ways. As such, we need to understand those differences and account for them in order to ensure that men and women have equal access to critical services, like effective healthcare.

At the same time, it is important to recognize that, despite some surface-level differences, men and women share many similarities and needs. And by focusing too much on their differences, we may be at risk of denying women life-saving care.

Heart disease and cardiac arrest are good examples of both problems mentioned above. Studies show that women are less likely to receive timely care and intervention by both bystanders and medical professionals. In the first case, it is due to a simple anatomical difference that makes people hesitant to perform CPR. In the second case, it is a failure to recognize that heart attacks often manifest differently in women than in men.

A recent study found that when women suffer cardiac arrest in public, they are 27 percent less likely than men to receive CPR. The simple reason for this is that bystanders are often unsure of how to administer CPR around a woman’s breasts.

A New York ad agency is trying to close this gap by educating the public and encouraging CPR trainers to add breasts to some of their CPR dummies (most are just male torsos). Hopefully, this will at least raise awareness of the fact that, like men, women need CPR in an emergency and that first responders shouldn’t be hesitant to act because of an insignificant anatomical difference.

Unfortunately, women are also more likely to have heart attacks misdiagnosed by medical professionals for the opposite reason: assumptions that women’s symptoms will be the same as men’s.

Men often experience severe chest pain and pain in the left arm during or just before a heart attack. Many women experience these symptoms as well. But women experiencing (or about to experience) a heart attack can also/alternatively suffer symptoms that include:

  • Stomach pain
  • Palpitations in the chest
  • Shortness of breath
  • Dizziness
  • Nausea

In one study of post-heart attack patients, about 62 percent of women reported more than three symptoms that were not chest pain. About 53 percent of women said that their “healthcare provider did not think the symptoms were heart-related.”

Time is critical in the event of a heart attack. Misdiagnosis or delayed diagnosis can be fatal. That’s why doctors need to better understand women’s heart attack symptoms and respond as quickly as possible.

If you’ve been seriously injured or a loved one has been killed due to misdiagnosis, please discuss your options with an experienced medical malpractice attorney.