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Diagnosis, treatment lacking for Boston women with heart disease

The assumption that cardiovascular disease is predominantly a male health problem is incorrect. Although fatal heart-related conditions are prevalent in both genders, CVD has killed more women during the last 30 years than men. According to the American Heart Association, CVD claimed the lives of more than 386,000 men nationwide in 2009 and over 401,000 women.

Doctors in Middlesex County and around the country may overlook symptoms of cardiovascular disease in females, simply because the patients are women. Reports say misdiagnosis of coronary disease in women is common. No treatment or delayed treatment can lead to a preventable worsened condition or death.

A 2011 study noted cardiovascular diagnostic and treatment methods for women remained relatively static, although more women were diagnosed with and dying from heart disease than ever before. Doctors are disturbed nontraditional CVD deaths among younger women in their 40s are climbing. The study faulted the medical community for failing to investigate the reasons heart and vascular functions and disease differed between genders.

The Society for Women's Health Research and WomenHeart study found doctors were less likely to identify symptoms of heart attacks in women than men. Consequently, female patients did not receive the early, necessary tests or prescription drugs to combat potentially-deadly cardiovascular problems. The research concluded improvements in female diagnoses and treatment could happen, only if minorities and women were represented proportionately in future CVD research trials.

Some health care professionals aren't waiting to find out if the medical community acts on the study's suggestions. Heart-health education is being targeted to female patients, including change-in-lifestyle recommendations already familiar to men -- regular exercise, weight and diet control, attentiveness to blood pressure, and smoking and alcohol restrictions.

Serious or fatal health conditions may occur when doctor bias results in a delayed or missed diagnosis. A Boston patient injured by a physician's negligence may file a liability claim in civil court to recover damages.

Source: Wake Forest Baptist HealthWire, "Women's heart problems often misdiagnosed" No author given, Feb. 14, 2014

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