Tuesday, February 15, 2011

But what about the men?

At almost every event where I'm working in my capacity as a WomenHeart Champion, some dudebro will come up to me and say some variation on, "Where's the men's group?"

Then they get a smug look on their faces as if they've just scored a major "Gotcha!" and they scuttle away, oh so pleased with themselves for their clever little bon mot.

Oh honey, I want to say to them, it's ALWAYS about the men.

Almost 75 percent of the research on heart disease in the US is done on men; women comprise only 27 percent of heart disease research subjects in this country.

91 percent of family doctors are unaware that heart disease kills more WOMEN than men each year--medical professionals whose job it is to know these things DON'T KNOW.

Women who present with the exact same symptoms as men are often told that it's our gall bladder, it's anxiety, it's stress, it's acid reflux, anything but what it actually is--our hearts.

(Facts and figures above are from the WomenHeart website and the American Heart Association website.)

A study was done a few years ago where groups of doctors were given imaginary case histories for one of two patients, either a 47-year-old male or 56-year-old female. Aside from the age, everything else was identical. The two patients had all the risk factors for a heart attack; some of the case histories, male and female, also included a note about job stress.

In the case studies where stress was a factor, the majority of the doctors--a mix of family physicians and internists--referred the male patient to a cardiologist; the majority referred the female to a psychologist.

Read that again: the man gets sent to a cardiologist; the little woman gets told that it's all in her head.

(That's from a study done by Gabrielle R. Chiaramonte; details here.)

As if that's not enough, check out this ABC news video on ingrained, institutionalized medical sexism. Ladies, brace yourselves for a blood pressure spike:

'Medical Sexism': Women's heart disease symptoms often dismissed | abc7.com

Women are less likely than men to receive life-saving clot-busting drugs, less likely to even receive simple treatments like an aspirin or a nitro patch. Women are less likely to be referred for cardiac rehab. Women have a 28 percent increased risk of dying as compared to men within the first year after a heart attack (perhaps because of the fact that we're less likely to get adequate treatment, as noted).

(And those stats and figures are from, respectively: Dey S, Flather, MD, Breiger D, et al. "Sex-related differences in the presentation, treatment and outcomes among patients with acute coronary syndromes: the Global Registry of Acute Coronary Events." Heart. 2009;95(1):20-6; and Curtis LH, Al-Khatib SM, Shea AM, et al. "Sex Differences in the Use of Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillators for Primary and Secondary Prevention of Sudden Cardiac Death." JAMA. 2007;298(13):1517-1524.)

It's not "us versus them" in that we women heart patients and advocates are taking something away from the male heart patients. What we're striving for is EQUAL access to correct diagnoses and treatment.

In order to do that, we have to address the current inequalities--you can't change the fact that because you're male, you're automatically going to be treated differently if you complain of chest pain than a woman is going to be.

In general, men don't have to fight to be believed if they show up in a doctor's office and say that they think they're having a heart attack.

We do. We have. Every single day.

That's part of WomenHeart's mission--to educate women (and men) about heart disease, our #1 killer, to educate the medical community, and to advocate for equal access and treatment.

We don't want to take away the men's piece of pie (access to accurate diagnosis and correct treatment); we want to ensure that everyone has pie.

And everyone wants pie, right?

1 comment:

  1. Good morning, Laura - just a heads up that this wonderful essay has been reposted at Heart Sisters today: http://myheartsisters.org/2011/11/21/but-what-about-the-men/

    Thanks for this!