Study Highlights Possible Gender Bias in Heart Care

Men with chest pain tend to receive medical attention faster, and receive more medical attention, compared to women, according to a study presented at the American College of Cardiology’s Annual Scientific Session (ACC.21).

“Women should trust their instincts,” said Darcy Banco, MD, an internal medicine resident at NYU Langone Health and the study’s lead author via a press release. “Women should seek care right away if they experience new chest discomfort, difficulty breathing, nausea, vomiting, fatigue, sweating or back pain, as these could all be signs of a heart attack. The most important thing a woman can do is to seek medical care if she is worried and to ask specific questions of her doctor.”

Researchers collated data by the National Hospital Ambulatory Medical Care Survey between 2014-2018. The analyzed data represent approximately 29 million emergency department visits for chest pain in the U.S. among adults aged 18-55; of which 57% were women.

According to the results, women reporting chest pain were equally likely to arrive at the hospital by ambulance but significantly less likely than men to be triaged as emergent, the researchers noted. Women waited about 11 minutes longer to be evaluated by a clinician. Moreover, women were also significantly less likely to undergo an electrocardiogram (EKG), or to receive cardiac monitoring from a cardiologist.


“We, as health care providers, should continue to learn about how best to triage and diagnose patients with heart attacks, particularly among those who have historically been under-diagnosed or under-treated,” Banco said. “We are learning that heart attacks take many forms. We need to continue to raise awareness and make sure all patients are diagnosed and treated properly, even if they’re not the ‘classic’ demographic for a heart attack. [This knowledge] will help us improve care for all.”