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Women with Heart Disease are Frequently Misdiagnosed

Signs of heart disease are more likely to be blamed on stress when the patient is a woman, new research shows.

In two studies, 230 family doctors and internists were shown sample cases of a 47-year-old man and a 56-year-old woman. The ages of the patients reflect an equal risk for heart disease. Half the vignettes included sentences indicating the patient had recently experienced a stressful life event or appeared anxious. The doctors read the case and offered a diagnosis and treatment recommendations.

When the case study involved standard heart symptoms like chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heart beat, there was no difference in the doctor’s advice for the man or the woman. However, when stress was included as a symptom, gender differences emerged. The presence of stress changed the way doctors interpreted a woman’s symptoms, prompting them to suggest psychological factors rather than physical causes. But the presence of stress didn’t change the way men were assessed.

When stress was listed as a symptom, only 15 percent of the doctors diagnosed heart disease in women, compared to 56 percent for men. Only 30 percent of the doctors referred the women to a cardiologist, compared to 62 percent for men, and 13 percent suggested medication for women, compared to 47 percent for men.

The findings, presented at the Transcatheter Cardiovascular Therapeutics scientific symposium, could help explain why there is often a delay in the assessment of women with heart disease, said Dr. Alexandra J. Lansky, a cardiologist at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center.

If you or a loved one suffered a heart attack that you believe was not diagnosed and treated as promptly as it should have been, you should contact the lawyers at Berger & Lagnese for a free consultation.  The attorneys at Berger & Lagnese specialize in medical malpractice cases and have handled several cases involving the failure to timely diagnose and treat heart attack.