With any heart attack, minutes matter: every moment treatment is delayed translates into more damaged and dying heart muscle.
There is sound evidence to show that aspirin and nitroglycerin are effective treatments when given early in the course of a heart attack.
Women with chest pain, however, are less likely to receive these proven therapies on the way to the hospital than men, even when they have the same symptoms.
Researchers were troubled by these findings, particularly since heart disease is the leading cause of death for women. They did not find differences in the care received by white and African-American patients. [Heart disease in women]
However, they did find results of a clear gender bias, with women receiving sub-optimal care. The gender of the care provider did not seem to make a difference in care provided to women either.
Women are more likely to die from a heart attack than men. Women also may have different symptoms than men.
Clearly there is a need for better education among emergency care providers to ensure that women receive the early care they need. The research did not point to any clear reason for this disparity in care.
The damage from a heart attack does not happen all at once. As the heart muscle is deprived of oxygen over the course of several hours, parts of the muscle die.
Aspirin helps reduce damage to heart tissue by reducing clotting around plaque that prevents blood flow to the heart. Early intervention is crucial to minimizing damage from heart attacks.
On one hand, emergency medical services are taking great steps forward in caring for heart attack patients. Many ambulances now have portable EKG machinery and can transmit EKG results directly to the emergency room.
Before the patient has even arrived, a doctor can begin to assess the patient and the cath lab can be ready and waiting.
Many hospitals, in cooperation with local emergency medical systems, have made significant improvements in reducing the amount of time it takes between when the patient arrives and when patient receives angioplasty to open blocked blood vessels.
Emergency medical services are a vital link in this chain. Researchers emphasized that emergency responders need to make sure that all patients with chest pain are receiving this kind of top notch care.
The study looked at more than 650 patients in the Philadelphia area. Emergency services were called for each of these patients because of chest pain. The patients were then transported to one of three hospitals in the University of Pennsylvania Health System.
Researchers studied how often patients ages 30 and above received aspirin and nitroglycerin, whether the patients were placed on EKG monitoring, and whether intravenous lines were started to allow rapid delivery of medication.
While one third of the men received aspirin while in the care of emergency services, less than one quarter of the women did. Again, about one third of the men received nitroglycerin, while only slightly more than one quarter of the women did.
While 70 percent of the men had an IV started, only 61 percent of the women did. Of the women who arrived in the emergency room and were actually experiencing a heart attack, none had received aspirin, and all were less likely to have received any of the indicated treatments while being transported.
If you are a woman experiencing chest pain, even if your symptoms do not seem to be those typical of a heart attack, insist on receiving proper care.