Women Wait Longer for Heart Attack Treatment

Delays in Emergency Room Care Raise Heart Attack Risks for Women

From the WebMD Archives

Sept. 13, 2005 -- Women face longer delays than men in being evaluated, treated, and admitted for heart attack care in emergency rooms than men, according to a new Irish study.

Researchers found that women who have heart attacks were medically assessed an average of 30 minutes after arriving in emergency rooms at six major teaching hospitals in Dublin compared with an average wait of 20 minutes for men.

Women also faced delays receiving potentially lifesaving heart attack treatments, such as aspirin or reperfusion therapy to restore blood flow to the heart.

"The image of the typical male heart attack victim must be corrected in the minds of triage nurses - who carry out initial assessments in [emergency] departments - and other health care staff," says researcher Sharon O'Donnell, PhD, of Trinity College in Dublin, Ireland, in a news release.

The results of the study appear in the current issue of the Journal of Advanced Nursing.

Women Treated Differently for Heart Attack

In the study, 120 nurses who worked in the coronary care units of the six Dublin hospitals completed a questionnaire for each patient admitted via the hospital's emergency room for heart attack treatment over the course of a year. During the study period, 277 women and 613 men were admitted for heart attack treatment.

The results showed that in addition to waiting an average of 10 minutes longer to be medically assessed, women consistently experienced greater delays in treatment than men:

  • 92% of women received aspirin after an average of 55 minutes compared with 95% of men who received aspirin after an average of 33 minutes.
  • Women waited an average of 70 minutes for heart attack treatments that restore blood flow to heart arteries (reperfusion therapy) compared with 52 minutes for men. The longer these arteries stay blocked, the more heart muscle is damaged.
  • Longer waiting times also caused fewer women to be eligible for the therapy. (Forty percent of women and 25% of men did not receive the therapy because health care staff said it was "too late" to be effective.)
  • Women waited an average of 54 minutes longer to be transferred to the coronary care unit from the emergency room than men.

"Treatment delays experienced by women may limit their potential to achieve maximum benefit from reperfusion therapies, which have been clinically proven to work more effectively when administered early," says O'Donnell. "This could result in women being exposed to a greater rate of life-threatening complications and less favorable outcomes than their male counterparts."

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SOURCES: O'Donnell, S. Journal of Advanced Nursing, September 2005; vol 51: pp 14-21. News release, Journal of Advanced Nursing.
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