“To an extent this depends on the differing side effect profiles, and we have to take into account the side effects. On the other hand, if we give inferior treatment to women, it will affect outcomes in the longer term,” said specialist physician Sofia Lawesson, one of the researchers behind the study, to Sveriges Radio’s Ekot news programme.
The differences in the standards of care received by women and men have been known since the 1990s. The new study was intended to chart whether the gulf had been addressed.
Sofia Lawesson, who is employed at Linköping University Hospital, is surprised that, despite the identification of the problem, little has changed.
When the situation first became known in the 1990s the standard treatment for those who had suffered from a heart attack was an anticoagulant but this resulted in adverse side effects among many women.
Treatment has since changed to the method known as balloon angioplasty and the study has shown that women are 20 percent less likely to be given the treatment that men.
“We have to continue to study the treatment of men and women should be given,” Sofia Lawesson said.
According to a 2007 survey by the Swedish Association of Local Authorities and Regions (SALAR), the significance of gender is not limited to heart attack treatment. The study showed that female patients can expect to receive inferior care in all areas of the health system.
The Swedish government allocated funding for SALAR’s “Programme for Sustainable Equality” (Program för Hållbar Jämställdhet) to map issues such as waiting times, treatment, medicines and costs.
“Equal care should not be considered a women’s issue. Gender equality is a question of raising quality by removing an injustice,” SALAR chair Ander Knape wrote in a debate article on the issue in December 2010.
One area where men are discriminated, Knape observed, is within psychiatric care. He illustrated the differences in suicide statistics between women and men, arguing that depression among men is not diagnosed as quickly as among women.