Doctors are more likely to diagnose an anxiety disorder in women who are stressed out when they are demonstrating signs of possible heart problems. Men are more likely to be diagnosed with heart problems even when they are presenting with stress and anxiety. Doctors in a recent study were given case studies to read: a 47 year old man or a 56 year old woman. The men and women both reported symptoms of chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heart rhythms. When it was stated that the patient appeared anxious and reported a high degree of stress the doctors were more likely to diagnose female patients with anxiety disorders but men were more likely to be diagnosed with heart problems. If the women had symptoms of chest pain and shortness of breath but did not report anxiety and stress then they were as likely as men to be diagnosed with heart problems. A gender bias was present. Only 15% of women received a diagnosis of heart problems versus 56% of men when stress symtpoms were present and only 30% of women versus 62% of men were referred to a cardiologist. When the symptoms were present without stress there was no difference in the diagnosis of possible heart problems. There was no difference observed in diagnoses and referral between male and female physicians.
We know that stress and anxiety are risk factors for heart disease. Healthcare providers need to fully evaluate both men and women who present with heart disease symptoms even in the presence of acute stressful events. Also women need to make sure that their symptoms are evaluated properly, be persistent. If you are experiencing possible heart related symptoms you need to make sure they are evaluated appropriately. Remember heart disease is the number one killer of women and more women die of heart disease every year than men. If you are having symptoms your body is telling you “something is not right” – get yourself checked out. If you are not satisfied with your diagnosis seek a second opinion.
“Take Charge: A Woman’s Guide to a Healthier Heart” helps women identify their risks for heart disease and develop a proactive plan to prevent heart attacks. For more info visit www.heart-strong.com