JENNI MURRAY: Turns out I'm right to fear being fobbed off by doctors

Turns out I’m right to fear being fobbed off by doctors, writes JENNI MURRAY

How my heart sank (proof, I hope, that it’s still working) when I read what feels to be an increasingly familiar story. ‘Sexism means women denied heart treatment.’ This terrifying and infuriating news comes as a result of a study by researchers at Imperial College London and the University of Zurich.

They examined data from 420,000 heart patients across Europe between 2005 and 2017, concluding that nearly 12,000 women in the UK had been told incorrectly that they were not at high risk of dying of a heart attack.

This resulted in some losing out on appropriate care over two decades and deaths that could have been avoided if they had been classified as at high risk and had received emergency treatment.

I am genuinely frightened by this. At 72, with a background of being extremely overweight, years of a sedentary lifestyle as a journalist and broadcaster and having paid far too little attention to healthy habits regarding food, drink and tobacco, I want to know that if I see a doctor about strange symptoms in my chest, I won’t be dismissed — as has happened to so many women — as having indigestion, a ‘funny turn’ or a pain in a muscle.

JENNI MURRAY: At 72, with a background of being extremely overweight, years of a sedentary lifestyle as a journalist and broadcaster and having paid far too little attention to healthy habits regarding food, drink and tobacco, I want to know that if I see a doctor about strange symptoms in my chest, I won’t be dismissed — as has happened to so many women — as having indigestion, a ‘funny turn’ or a pain in a muscle

Doctors apparently have continued to assume most victims of heart attacks are fat middle-aged men, so are far more likely to be identified as high-risk patients than women.

The researchers say this is partly because the scoring system for heart attack risk was developed only using data from men.

‘We must ensure heart tests and treatments are as equally well proven in women as they are in men and that we tackle the persistent biases that pervade society and healthcare,’ says Dr Sonya Babu-Narayan, associate medical director of The British Heart Foundation charity.

Well, obviously. Women are, after all, 51 percent of the UK’s population and expect to be treated the same as men. But, clearly, we are not — as none of this is new.

A 2016 study published in the British Medical Journal found young UK women are almost twice as likely as men to die in hospital after a heart attack. And it’s more than three years since the British feminist Caroline Criado Perez published her extraordinary work Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias In A World Designed For Men, extracts of which were published in this newspaper.

Proof that we still live in a man’s world was most telling in her section on healthcare, which she says, is ‘systematically discriminating against women, leaving them chronically misunderstood, mistreated and misdiagnosed.’

Women are, after all, 51 percent of the UK’s population and expect to be treated the same as men. But, clearly, we are not — as none of this is new (File image)

The habit of seeing men’s bodies as the default began, she says with the ancient Greeks — she thanks the philosopher Aristotle for seeing the female as ‘a mutilated male’ — an ironic thank you, obviously. It’s to this assumption that she credits the huge gap in data between the health of men and women. Female bodies, she says, are seen as too complex, so we’re often excluded from clinical trials.

With so much evidence of the way men’s and women’s bodies respond differently to serious conditions and the realisation that some drugs developed using the male pattern could actually be harmful to women, why do these dangerous mistakes persist?

How come doctors still haven’t cottoned on that women often have different symptoms to men. Just one in eight has chest pain for example, so women’s ‘atypical’ heart attacks are often missed?

Mail on Sunday columnist, Dr Ellie Cannon, may have found one of the answers.

Evidence given to the Department of Health for its proposed Women’s Health Strategy for England showed, she says, that ‘historically women have not been listened to… they’re told painful symptoms are normal or they’ll just grow out of them.’

Earlier this year, she called for a healthcare revolution.

I’ve suffered in the past from doctors who didn’t listen or were dismissive of my concerns. Most notably, in the 1980s I was told by an obstetrician that he couldn’t understand why a woman of my intelligence was making such a lot of fuss about an internal examination. I was screaming in pain. It turned out to be an ectopic pregnancy, which could have killed me without prompt surgery.

As for my heart, I think I’m now lucky to have a GP who listened when my blood pressure seemed to rise. He prescribed statins which should offer some protection. (And no, as confirmed by another health story this week, they haven’t caused aches and pains — I had those before I began to take them!)

How much longer do we have to wait for clinical trials to be carried out separately on men and women now we know the extent to which the female physiology differs from that of the male?

One thing is for sure, proper research relies on using language correctly. It certainly won’t be helped by the current NHS obsession over sex and gender and the erasing of all trace of the word ‘woman’. A third of NHS organisations now use ‘pregnant people’, ‘service users’ or ‘birthing people’ instead of the simple ‘mothers’ or ‘women’.

The physiology of a trans man is female and that of a trans woman, male. I doubt either wants their symptoms of a heart attack to be misread according to gender rather than sex. We now know that can lead to fatal mistakes.

Sorry Agatha, Val’s Queen of crime 

Agatha Christie’s estate is furious that fellow crime writer Val McDermid is using the title Queen of Crime, trademarked to apply only to Agatha.

What a silly idea. When a Queen dies, surely her title is inherited by the next generation, and Val is a worthy successor.

I’ve read all of her books and she’s the only one who can keep me up all night, unable to put her down.


Agatha Christie’s (left) estate is furious that fellow crime writer Val McDermid (right) is using the title Queen of Crime, trademarked to apply only to Agatha

Off to the airport today to pick up my Ukrainian guests Zoriana and Ustym, who’s done so well in the exams he went to Lviv to sit. 

I wanted Zoriana to enjoy a better kitchen and second bathroom on her return, but the house is a tip. Why do builders never seem to finish on schedule? 

I know all too well what it feels like to join the breast cancer club no woman wants to be a member of, so bless TV presenter Sarah Beeny, newly diagnosed with the disease that killed her mother. 

How right she is when she said earlier this week that her mother died to make sure she won’t die of it. 

Women who suffered in the past prompted a huge amount of research. May Sarah benefit from this as I did.

I know all too well what it feels like to join the breast cancer club no woman wants to be a member of, so bless TV presenter Sarah Beeny (pictured with her children), newly diagnosed with the disease that killed her mother

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