The world’s been designed with only men in mind, meaning people are turning a blind eye to women’s health. And it’s killing us…
Not only do women face a gender pay gap, pension gap and promotion gap, it has also seemed for many years now that we are subject to a medical gap – which means that our symptoms and pain often go ignored. Now, new research has confirmed this, with yet another study published today showing how women are less likely to survive in medical emergencies.
The study, published today in the European Heart Journal, found that women are less likely to be resuscitated in the event of a cardiac arrest outside of hospital than men, with 68% of bystanders stopping to help versus 73% helping men.
More worrying, though, is the reason as to why: people don’t recognise cardiac arrest symptoms in women.
The British Heart Foundation defines a cardiac arrest as when your heart suddenly stops bumping blood around your body, often because of a problem with the electrical signals to the heart muscle. Typically this is associated with chest pains, but that’s because our world is based on male experiences (as wonderfully pointed out in Invisible Women by Caroline Criado-Perez).
According to Hanno Tan, author of the study from the University of Amsterdam, symptoms are different for women.
“Women may have symptoms of an impending heart attack that are less easy to interpret, such as fatigue, fainting, vomiting and neck or jaw pain, whereas men are more likely to report typical complaints such as chest pain,” she says.
A few months ago, a thread went viral on Twitter as a woman offered a similar warning after experiencing a cardiac arrest.
“I want to warn women our heart attacks feel different,” she wrote. “Last Sunday I had a heart attack. I had a 95% block in my left anterior descending artery. I’m alive because I called 911.
“I never had chest pain. It wasn’t what you read in pamphlets. I had it off and on for weeks.”
This isn’t the first time that research has pointed to these medical inequalities for women. A 2017 study found only 39% of women suffering cardiac arrest in a public place were given CPR versus 45% of men, and men were 23% more likely to survive an attack. And in February, the American Heart Association published research into why: apparently, and shockingly, members of the general public perceive fears about inappropriate touching, accusations of sexual assault, and fear of causing injury as inhibiting bystander CPR for women.
Of course, we’ve known for years that women are also less likely to be ‘believed’ about their pain by doctors, yet clearly nothing’s changed. A 2001 study entitled The Girl Who Cried Pain found that “while women have a higher prevalence of chronic pain syndromes and diseases associated with chronic pain than men, and women are biologically more sensitive to pain than men and respond differently to certain analgesics, women’s pain reports are taken less seriously than men’s, and women receive less aggressive treatment than men for their pain.”
It also notes how women are more likely to have their pain discounted as emotional or psychogenic rather than real.
Another example shows how men wait an average of 49 minutes before being treated for abdominal pain, whereas women wait 65 minutes for the same symptoms (despite that fact that most of us have more pain-inducing organs in that area, hello uterus).
In September, the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (Nice) said that the NHS must “listen to women”. Though this warning was specifically related to endometriosis, it’s about time we all took on board that message for all healthcare.