When it comes to seeking care for a heart attack, speed is everything. The faster you get to the hospital, the likelier you are to stay alive and minimize lasting heart damage. Not everyone, however, acts on that wisdom the same way. Married men, it turns out, make it to the ER faster than married women and single men.
The findings are a result of a study funded by several provincial health organizations in Ontario. Researchers evaluated 4,403 acute myocardial infarction patients who experienced chest pain and subsequently came to one of 96 emergency care centers in the province. Among the cohort, a third were women. Most of the patients didn’t waste time getting help: 46% of them were at the hospital within two hours of experiencing symptoms and nearly three-quarters arrived within six.
But when researchers broke those findings down further, they found that married men were 35% more likely than single men to show up within six hours of symptoms, while for women there was no statistical significance. And for everyone, predictably, calling an ambulance was associated with a shorter time to hospital than among those who arrived on their own.
The numbers may be surprising but at least one of the reasons is not. Women have long assumed the position of chief medical officer in their families, especially when it comes to their husbands, who so often abdicate the role when it comes to their own health. “We surmise that, in general, women may be more likely than men to take the role of caregiver and to advise their spouses to seek early medical assessment,” the authors wrote.
The study does have some limitations, primarily related to data collection. While Ontario laws require emergency room attendants to collect information on marital status, if patients came in unconscious and alone, they were obviously unable to divulge this information and were not included in the study. Therefore “the sickest patients were probably excluded from our study, and our results may not apply to them,” wrote the researchers.
It’s also important to remember that under Canada’s health care system, all patients are covered for hospital visits. So while a comparable U.S. study would have to consider factors like access to health insurance, this one did not.
The study was published in the Canadian Medical Association Journal.