February is American Heart Disease Awareness Month, a time for us to bring awareness to issues regarding heart disease and our healthcare system. Implicit biases are incredibly dangerous to both minorities and women, especially when it comes to heart disease. Women have suffered due to skewed perceptions that heart disease is a man’s disease, arising from misrepresentation in the media and inequity in heart health studies.
Heart disease is the leading cause of death for women, part of which is due to certain biases present in our healthcare system. Harvard Health found that women who received coronary bypass surgery are half as likely as men to receive painkillers during their recovery. Furthermore, women are more likely to be misdiagnosed and discharged while having a heart attack, largely because their physical symptoms are poorly documented in medical research—women account for 70% of chronic pain sufferers, yet 80% of studies are done on male subjects. In the few studies that have been done, it was found that contrary to the typical signs of a heart attack, women may instead feel lower back pain, fatigue, lethargy, nausea, and increased anxiety. Due to a lack of awareness of these symptoms, many women suffer from cardiac arrest without even realizing it. This lack of awareness of disparities within healthcare goes largely unannounced, as physicians themselves are oblivious to their own roles in perpetuating these biases, attributing these issues to patient-level or system-wide disparities.
Even outside of the hospital, women have been shown to receive unequal treatment. It was found that bystanders are less likely to recognize their symptoms as heart disease and attempt to resuscitate them. Moreover, women are less likely to receive recommended treatments and use of innovative devices to assist in recovery, resulting in a higher likelihood of death from a first heart attack when compared to men.
The implicit bias that exists within our healthcare system is proving fatal to women with heart disease. As Heart Disease Awareness Month comes to a close, we need to highlight these issues and continue fighting for equity. Stay strong, fight on!
Written by Lily Sun
Researched by Natasha Koneru