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Study: Sex Bias In Cardiac Treatment

A new study suggests men and women suffering from chest pain are often treated differently when they go to the hospital. And that that may not be a bad
thing. Dr. Emily Senay explains for The Early Show..

The study, published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, looked at 2,000 people who went to the emergency room complaining of worsening chest pain, which doctors call "unstable angina," a type of chest pain thought to usually herald worse things to come.

About half were men and half were women. When they got to the emergency room, they found men and women were equally likely to be admitted.

Once they got into the hospital, though, things were different. Men were more likely to undergo diagnostic testing. Women were 20 percent to 40 percent less likely to receive cardiac testing, including invasive tests like angiograms, and noninvasive tests like echocardiography or stress testing.

So the men were much more likely to undergo a more thorough workup than the women.

Why were the men treated in a different fashion? Is it because of the history of heart problems they had? Nobody really knows for sure. Some might suspect that the women who got a poorer workup might do worse over time.

But, according to this study, the opposite was true. Over time the women did better than the men. Men were almost 25 percent more likely to die six years later and were 1 percent more likely than the women to have another cardiac event. An "event" can be a heart attack or irregular heart rhythm, or any other sort of heart trouble.

So even though the men got more tests, over time the women did better.

This gets us back to an old theory, that women tend to go to the doctor quicker than guys do. That could be part of it, although that isn't what the researchers think.

Although there are sex biases, that may not explain why the outcome is so different. Maybe there's a very different way these diseases present themselves in men and women. Although women have the disease, they may be less sick. Their coronary arteries may not be as advanced in the diseased state as men's are.

It's not so clear women are rushing to the hospital more casually than men are. It may be that doctors are more conservative because of the symptoms in women.

We think of chest pain as pain that radiates to the arm or neck, but women's symptoms don't often present themselves that way, and they have a completely different set of symptoms.

Nevertheless, heart disease is the No. 1 killer for women, as it is for men.

Women may be more likely to present the symptoms of abdominal pain, trouble breathing and fatigue. If women experience these, they should seek medical attention because that could be the way heart disease is likely to show in them.

Bottom line, if you're suffering from any symptoms or if you have any concerns, get yourself to a hospital.

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