Here is another study on gender disparity in health care, and again, women are at the losing end. Researchers at Penn University looked at 683 cases of emergencies with symptoms of chest pains and the care given to the patients by emergency medical service (EMS).
Chest pains or angina pectoris is a major symptom of a heart attack and the standard emergency treatments are aspirin and nitroglycerin. However, the study showed that less female patients get these treatments compared to male patients.
Chest pain is a leading cause of emergency room visits in the US, accounting for more than 8 million cases a year.
The study reported the following figures in terms of pre-hospital interventions the study patients have received:
- Aspirin: 24% of women vs. 32% of men
- Nitroglycerin: 26% of women vs. 33% of men
- IV line: 61% of women vs. 70% of men.
A heart attack occurs gradually, with the following symptoms and warning signs according to the American heart Association:
- Chest discomfort. Most heart attacks involve discomfort in the center of the chest that lasts more than a few minutes, or that goes away and comes back. It can feel like uncomfortable pressure, squeezing, fullness or pain.
- Discomfort in other areas of the upper body. Symptoms can include pain or discomfort in one or both arms, the back, neck, jaw or stomach.
- Shortness of breath. May occur with or without chest discomfort.
- Other signs: These may include breaking out in a cold sweat, nausea or lightheadedness Early intervention can help minimize damage to the heart muscles and thereby save lives of the patients.
Early intervention in a heart attack is very important. Aspirin can reduce clotting around the ruptured plaques in the coronary artery that block blood flow to the heart. This minimizes the damage to the heart tissue. Many EMS organizations have cardiac monitoring equipment in their ambulances that can send information about a patient’s heart rhythm ahead to the hospital. This alerts the hospital to prepare equipment that might be necessary, e.g. catheterization device to open blocked arteries. This way, the “door-to-balloon time” is significantly shortened.
But why this gender disparity? According to lead author Dr. Zachary Meisel, an emergency physician and Senior Fellow at the Leonard Davis Institute of Health Economics at Penn.
The study results show that the disparity wasn’t linked to ethnicity, age, or gender of emergency personnel. Experts believe that this is due to several factors. One may be the fact that heart attack symptoms may present atypically in women. This can lead to differences in the way the symptoms – in this case chest pains – are interpreted by both paramedics and patients. A previous study has reported that women tended to downplay heart attack symptoms that lead to delayed medical help.
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