If you’re “feminine” and between the ages of 18 – 55 (whatever your actual gender is), you may be less likely to get the care you need for your heart attack fast enough!
A study just reported in the Journal of the Canadian Medical Association, seems to indicate that we are failing to meet our own standard of care for heart attack patients in emergency rooms across Canada. Looking at results from 24 Canadian centers (and a few others in the rest of the world), the researchers tracked 18 -55 year olds who were admitted to the hospital with acute coronary syndromes, which is “medicalese” for people having problems with the circulation of blood to their heart. According to the guidelines, people with these issues are to be seen, triaged (in other words, sorted out at the front desk in the emergency room), get an electrocardiogram and receive appropriate therapy within minutes of their arrival. Not only were we failing to do this for about half of these patients (and time means more heart muscle can die and so can you!) but whether you were male or female if you were anxious or had more “feminine” characteristics, we tended to do worse. Feminine characteristics were measured using the Bem Sex Role Inventory. This is a validated scale that asks you to rate yourself. If the following were almost always true you are more stereotypically “feminine”: compassionate, friendly, helpful, gullible, sensitive to the needs of others, tactful, sympathetic, warm and, yielding. There are 60 of these traits and whether you’re male or female if you scored higher on the “feminine” side, you were also less likely to receive timely therapy for your heart problem. The study can’t tell us why this is the case, it can only speculate. Perhaps in the emergency room we’re biased against these traits or it takes us longer to see through them to the heart attack beneath, who knows but whatever the reason it means that if you think you’re having a heart attack, to better guarantee that you get treated fast enough, try not to be anxious and be as “masculine” as you can be!