Monday, December 8, 2008

Women, look after your own hearts

Because evidently, we can't even count on our doctors to do it. I remember around 15 or 20 years ago, Oprah first brought to my attention the disparity between the level of heart care men and women receive. I remember there being a book called "Outrage" or with that in the title, but I am not finding it on amazon right now. The crux of the study was that heart care was totally male-centric. Treatments weren't tested on women. Women's symptoms are often different from men's so doctors weren't recognizing the onset of a heart attack in female patients. In fact, doctors were more likely to pooh-pooh women or think they were exaggerating symptom claims. Obviously, the hope of the study's authors and publishers was that the medical community would learn from its poor treatment of women and improve.

But, according to this report, nothing has changed. Women still don't get proper care and diagnosis. Women in hospitals are 12% more likely to die from massive heart attacks while in the hospital than men. Doctors are slower to provide women treatments that restore blood flow. One of the most basic treatments for heart problems is aspirin. Giving a patient a stinking aspirin is something even people at home know to do, but for some reason women under a doctor's care are way less likely than men to get that home remedy. Doctors simply are still not aggressively diagnosing and treating women's heart disease.

What the hell? How is this still happening? According to The National Coalition for Women with Heart Disease, heart disease has been the leading cause of death in women since 1908. Doctors and hospitals are still mis-treating women for the disease that has been our leading cause of death for 100 years. Since 1984, more women than men have died of heart disease each year. And women are twice as likely to die from a heart attack as men. (All stats from www.womenheart.org ) According to a 2005 study by the American Heart Association, only 8% of primary care physicians knew that heart disease kills more women than men. Even more appalling, only 17% of cardiologists knew!

Let's be clear: this isn't a women's issue or a feminist issue. This is a human rights issue. This is an issue for all of us, men and women, to be up in arms about. It's all of our mothers who aren't receiving adequate care. (Bias alert: my mother has personally suffered inadequate heart care, resulting in a heart attack. Fortunately, she is still kicking 10 years later, but I'm still angry when I think about what she was put through.) We have to demand better. We have the right to expect that our doctors (especially our HEART doctors) know the ins and outs of diagnosing and treating the number one killer of women.

I thought enough was enough 15 years ago, but evidently the medical profession didn't think so. I naively assumed doctors would take that study and learn from their mistakes when it comes to treating women's heart health. My mistake. I hope they get the message this time around. This is not a situation where women can afford to wait another 15 years for the third time to be the charm.

1 comment:

Erin said...

Amen. Something I never think of but should.

 
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