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Why Doctors Are Failing Black Women on Heart Attacks

Trouble breathing, numbness, nausea, a cold sweat, pressure building in the chest. You might recognize these as the indicators of a heart attack, but what you might not realize is that these are the symptoms of a male having a heart attack.

Most people, even some doctors, don’t realize that heart attacks present fundamentally different symptoms in men and women. Not only that, but some patients (particularly African American women) are less likely to be taken seriously when they show clear signs of a heart attack. But what explains this phenomenon? Why are doctors failing black women on heart attacks?

A Difference in Symptoms

As mentioned, heart attack symptoms manifest differently in women than in men. A great source of confusion is that many women experiencing a heart attack do not feel chest pain. A more comprehensive set of symptoms women experience may include:

  • Sudden sweating
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Heartburn
  • Arm pain or numbness
  • Dizziness and feeling of lightheadedness
  • Shortness of breath
  • Discomfort or pressure in the jaw, belly, shoulder,

Crucially, a woman having a heart attack may not experience symptoms as severely as a man might. Mild discomfort in the chest, for example, is a symptom of a heart attack. Even if the symptoms are mild, the heart attack itself (independent of the symptoms) can be just as severe and just as life-threatening, even if the woman is not in immediate distress or at risk of collapsing.

Furthermore, while men often have a heart attack when engaged in physical activity or stressful situations, the Mayo Clinic suggests that many women have heart attacks while sitting or even sleeping. For that reason, some women having a heart attack are unaware of what’s happening because either they don’t recognize the symptoms or may associate the heartburn and discomfort with other conditions.

Racial Disparity

Not only are women less likely to identify the signs of a heart attack, but black women are disproportionately more likely to experience a heart attack and other kinds of heart disease. In fact, about half of all black women in the United States have heart disease. Not only that, but these women are often unprepared to recognize when they are in distress. According to the American Heart Association, about 40% of African American women are unaware of heart attack symptoms.

Women being unprepared to identify symptoms of a heart attack is a huge problem because there’s evidence to suggest that doctors don’t recognize the signs either, especially when it comes to treating black women.

A 16-year study from Stanford University found that black women are far less likely to be diagnosed with a heart attack, even when they present clear symptoms. Doctors in that study were significantly more likely to identify early warning signs of heart failure in white men, which resulted in faster treatment and better outcomes.

When doctors fail to identify a woman having a heart attack, the patient is much more likely to experience life-long complications or even pass away as a consequence of medical inaction. Some of the life-changing outcomes of failing to treat a heart attack in a timely manner include

  • Weakened heart muscles, making it more difficult to do daily tasks
  • Atypical heart rhythm, which can potentially be fatal
  • Sudden cardiac arrest (stopping of the heart), which will be fatal without immediate treatment.

When that happens, it is crucial that victims and their families turn to an experienced medical malpractice attorney who can help them hold the doctor responsible for their negligence.

To schedule a free case consultation with an experienced Atlanta medical malpractice attorney from The Mabrey Firm, don’t hesitate to give us a call at (404) 814-5098 or send us an email.