When one man's heart attack is another woman's panic attack

May 28, 2019

A University at Buffalo doctor is pushing for medical professionals to recognize that men and women often don't have the same problems and treatments.

Medicine has traditionally assumed men and women are the same and even frequently gives the same dosage of medication. Dr. Linda Harris, a professor of vascular surgery in the Jacobs Medical School, program director of the vascular surgery residency and fellowship program, and a practicing vascular surgeon, saw those attitudes while training as a doctor.

"Back then, a lot of vascular disease was not thought to occur in in women. So if I had gone to an emergency room 10-15 years ago with chest pains and you went to the emergency room with the same chest pains, they would have assessed you for heart attack and they would have said that I either had reflux or anxiety or a panic attack," Harris said.

"Nowadays, thanks to some work by the American Heart, they do look at women and women can have heart disease, as well. The same has not necessarily carried over to vascular disease."

Harris said that is changing, but there needs to be a lot more research on women's health, a long-time research area at UB. The surgeon said there is a related problem that women don't take care of themselves as well as they should, like being checked by doctors.

At the same time, men in relationships with women do better in health than men who live alone, with the common belief being that women help men take better care of themselves and regularly visit their doctors.

"This is where hopefully these conversations and this sort of attention to the public will help with them starting to be aware. Yes, it could be you," Harris said. "Do you have high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, do you smoke, do you have a family history of having heart disease or people with leg blockage problems or strokes?"

Harris recently held the Jacobs school's first annual women's vascular summit. It looked at key issues like how vascular diseases differ in men and women in symptoms and how treatments may be impacted by health care views of gender.