A new study conducted by researchers from the British Heart Foundation discovered a startling trend in patient care following a heart attack.
According to the researchers, men are twice as likely as their female counterparts to receive the highest quality of care after a heart attack, despite identical diagnoses.
“Diagnosis of a heart attack is only one piece of the puzzle,” said researcher Dr. Ken Lee. “The way test results and patient history are interpreted by healthcare professionals can be subjective, and unconscious biases may influence the diagnosis. This may partly explain why, even when rates of diagnosis are increased, women are still at a disadvantage when it comes to the treatments they receive following a heart attack.”
Understanding the gender disparity
The researchers utilized the troponin blood test to most accurately diagnosis a heart attack for over 48,000 adults who participated in the study. The test is typically used to diagnose a heart attacks in both men and women; however, the researchers explained that troponin levels differ between men and women during a heart attack, as women typically have lower levels of the protein when they’re having a heart attack.
This fact alone can greatly affect whether women are even properly diagnosed with a heart attack. With this in mind, the researchers used the same benchmark of troponin for both men and women. In the later stages of their tests, the researchers made those figures more specific to the genders in order to get a better idea of how treatment plans differed across both genders.
“By addressing the biological difference between men and women, we’ve successfully improved the test to detect more women who’ve had a heart attack,” said Dr. Lee. “These women would otherwise be misdiagnosed.”
Getting proper treatment
As important as diagnosis is, the researchers also learned that treatment differs greatly between men and women, as men are two times as likely to receive the proper care following a heart attack when compared to their female counterparts.
Over 25 percent of men were prescribed statins following a heart attack as a preventative measure, compared to just over 15 percent of women. Nearly 35 percent of men were fitted for a stent post-heart attack, compared with, again, just 15 percent of women.
Based on their findings, the researchers hope that healthcare professionals do their parts to ensure that women are receiving the proper care after a traumatic heart episode.
“It’s extremely promising that bespoke blood tests for men and women could lead to better diagnosis of heart attacks,” said researcher Dr. Sonya Babu-Narayan. “But this progress in diagnosis needs to translate in to better treatment and improved heart attack survival chances for women. We now need to dig deep into the complex reasons behind women having reduced access to investigations and treatments.”