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Gender gap in heart attack survival linked to stereotypes

Thursday 16th August 2018
New research has suggested gender stereotyping may lead to female heart attack victims being more likely to die than men when treated by a medic of the opposite sex.
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Gender stereotyping is likely to play a major role in the gap in survival rates between men and women when it comes to being treated for heart attacks by a medic of the opposite sex, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF). 

Research by the University of Washington on 582,000 heart attack cases on people aged over 19 found that women were significantly more likely to survive if they were treated by a woman than by a man. 

By contrast, it made no difference if a man was treated by another man or by a woman. 

Although female survival rates increased if the male doctor had a lot of experience with female patients or had female colleagues present, the instance of mortality was still greater than for male patients.

Commenting on the findings, senior cardiac nurse at the BHF Maureen Talbot argued there are strong reasons for believing gender stereotypes have an impact on the ways in which men and women are treated for heart attacks. 

She said: "The stereotypical heart attack patient is often thought to be a middle-aged man with a poor lifestyle. But the reality is very different, with heart attacks affecting a large spectrum of the population, including thousands of seemingly healthy women every year."

Noting that women in the UK are more likely to die from coronary heart disease than breast cancer, she said the BHF's own research has indicated a "worrying" difference in survival rates, to which "inaccurate stereotypes may be a contributing factor". 

However, she noted, while the Washington study supports the notion that gender stereotypes can influence survival rates, more research needs to be carried out in the UK to establish if a similar level of "bias" exists here. 

Recent data published by the Office for National Statistics revealed a significant slowdown in progress in reducing deaths from cardiac and circulatory diseases. While that may have many causes, improved healthcare for female cardiac patients may help accelerate progress again. 

Written by Matthew Horton

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