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11:41 AM

KCRW: Women More Likely to Survive Heart Attack if Doctor is Female

Madeleine Brand of KCRW’s Press Play recently interviewed Noel Bairey Merz, MD, about a new study that showed women are less likely to survive a heart attack if they had a male physician instead of a female.

“This is a #MeToo moment in medicine,” Bairey Merz, director of the Barbra Streisand Women’s Heart Center in the Smidt Heart Institute, told Brand.

The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, analyzed treatments and outcomes for more than 500,000 heart attack patients admitted to Florida hospitals between 1991 and 2010.

When treated by female doctors, male and female patients in the study fared about the same: 12 percent of women and 11.8 percent of men died, an insignificant difference of 0.2 percent.

However, when treated by male physicians, 13.3 percent of women died versus 12.6 percent of men, a clinically relevant difference of 0.7 percent – almost three times greater. Said another way, women were 12 percent more likely to die when treated by a male physician.

The results of the study didn’t surprise Bairey Merz, who has long advocated that all physicians need to be more aware that women’s heart attack symptoms often differ from the symptoms males typically experience. For example, men often experience pain their chest and left arms, while women are more likely to experience indigestion or nausea.

Any woman who goes to a hospital Emergency Department complaining of any symptom “above the belly button” such as intermittent chest pain, nausea and fatigue should immediately by given an electrocardiogram test, Bairey Merz told Brand. The female patient also should be tested for troponin, a hormone present in the blood after a heart attack.

But symptom differences between the sexes don’t tell the whole story, Bairey Merz told Brand, suggesting that male physicians might wrongly think that heart attacks tend to happen more to men. “Heart disease is the No. 1 killer of all women at all ages,” Bairey Merz said.

Another factor: Male physicians and female patients may have difficulty communicating with each other.

“Female physicians spend more time listening. Male physicians spend more time talking,” Bairey Merz told Brand.

Click here to listen to the complete interview on KCRW’s website.