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Medical Negligence

Women ‘more at risk of heart attack misdiagnosis’

Estimated read time: 3 mins

Carrie Tennick, September 30, 2019

Women are “dying needlessly” due to inequalities in the awareness, diagnosis and treatment of heart attacks, according to the British Heart Foundation (BHF).

A new briefing by the organisation has estimated that more than 8,200 women in England and Wales have died over 10 years because they did not have equal treatment to men.

Women ‘fare worse’

The BHF has said that women fare worse than men “at every stage of their heart attack experience”. This is despite risk factors often being more deadly for women. For example, smoking increases women’s heart attack risk up to twice as much as it does for men. Meanwhile, high blood pressure means women face an 80% higher risk of a heart attack than men, while type 2 diabetes increases women’s risk 50% more than men’s.

It found that more women are at risk as they delay seeking medical attention when experiencing symptoms of a heart attack.

A global review found that the average delay between the onset of symptoms and arrival at hospital for men ranges between 1 hour 24 minutes and 3 hours 30 minutes, while that rises to between 1 hour 48 minutes and 7 hours 12 minutes for women.

According to the BHF, research has also found that women are 50% more likely to face a misdiagnosis when having a heart attack. Both men and women who are initially misdiagnosed face a 70% higher risk of dying.

‘Substandard treatment’

The BHF’s briefing pointed to women receiving “substandard treatment” after having a heart attack. It estimated that over a decade, 8,200 women’s lives could have been saved if they had received “the same standard of care as men”. It revealed that women are less likely to receive standard treatments, such as bypass surgery and stents.

Women have also been found to receive poorer aftercare. A study found that women in England and Wales were 2.7% less likely to be prescribed statins and 7.4% less likely to be prescribed beta blockers when leaving hospital.

This is despite twice as many UK women dying from coronary heart disease – which is the cause of the majority of heart attacks, says the BHF – than breast cancer.

The BHF highlighted that roughly 35,000 women are admitted to hospital following a heart attack in the UK annually. This equates to an average of 98 women per day, or four women per hour.

Heart attacks ‘seen as man’s disease’

Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, BHF associate medical director, said: “Heart attacks have never been more treatable. Yet women are dying needlessly because heart attacks are often seen as a man’s disease, and women don’t receive the same standard of treatment as men. The studies detailed in this briefing have revealed inequalities at every stage of a woman’s medical journey. The reasons for this are complex to dissect. Together, we must change this.” 

She went on to say: “The first steps to closing this gender gap include changing the public perception of women and heart attacks. The assumption that women are not at risk of heart attack is false and has proven to be deadly.”  

Dr Babu-Narayan said that her organisation wants to “empower women” to better understand the risk they face and to be aware of the many symptoms of a heart attack. She added that research must continue to be funded in order to better prevent, diagnose and treat heart attacks.

If you have suffered a misdiagnosis of an illness, First4Lawyers could help you claim the compensation you are entitled to. Medical negligence is a betrayal of trust no one should have to face alone so get in touch with our understanding team today to discuss your options for free and with no obligation.