Cardiovascular disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women in the United States. Yet, we know there are sex- and gender-specific influences that effect cardiovascular health outcomes. For example, women experiencing a heart attack are likely to present with varying symptoms and receive a delay in treatment compared to men, reducing their chances of survival.
A recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Science found that physician gender also impacts patient survival . The authors examined over 500,000 emergency room medical records between 1991 and 2010 and explored how patient and physician gender relate to health outcomes. They found that female patients treated by male physicians were less likely to survive, whereas patients of either gender had similar survival rates if the treating physician was female.
"Over 15 years ago, two studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine identified that women with chest pain were not getting the same treatment as men," says Dr. Marla Mendelson, Associate Professor of Medicine (Cardiology) and Medical Director for the Program for Women's Cardiovascular Health at Northwestern University.
"Here we are with a current study of ER physicians demonstrating a disparity in outcomes: There was higher mortality among female patients treated by male physicians, but similar outcomes for men and women when the physician is female. Despite public awareness and education of physicians, there seems to be an inherent bias in the perception of clinical disease in women," she says.
Mendelson suggests that continuing education for physicians is crucial, "[It] can be addressed beginning at the medical school level, during residency training, and throughout the continuing education of practicing physicians, of all disciplines, involved in the care of women.
The Women's Health Research Institute promotes awareness of sex- and gender-related health issues and provides education for researchers, physicians, and community members. To learn more about sex and gender disparities in cardiovascular disease, consider reviewing the following resources:
- Sex as a Biological Variable in Emergency Medicine Research and Clinical Practice: A Brief Narrative Review
- Reporting of sex as a variable in cardiovascular studies using cultured cells
- Sex in basic research: concepts in the cardiovascular field
For Community Members:
- American Heart Association – Go Red for Women
- Northwestern Medicine – Program for Women's Cardiovascular Care
1. Greenwood et al., Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2018 Aug 6. pii: 201800097. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1800097115. [Epub ahead of print]