Medical sexism: Does it exist?

FRESNO, Calif.

"150 over 62."

Those blood pressure numbers are a measure of success for Karen Puente. The 62-year-old wife, mother and grandmother drives from Kingsburg to Saint Agnes Medical Center in Fresno several times a week to put her heart into her recovery.

Karen Puente: "I've been given a second chance and i can just go from here and get better."

What got her here was as a funny pain in her chest, but it was a year before she asked her doctor about it.

Karen Puente: "I just kept feeling this funny, little, naggy pain but it was only when I laid down at night and I could pay attention to it."

The men in Karen's family have a history of heart disease, so she thought she wouldn't develop it.

Karen Puente: "Being a woman, it's not going to happen to me, right?"

That denial helped a blocked artery get even worse. But even the nickname of the arterysounds like a man's health problem.

Karen Puente: "My main artery, the one they call "the widow maker" was 70% blocked."

Karen's cardiologist, Dr. Dalpinder Sandhu says medical sexism was more common years ago, but in the last decade, awareness has improved heart health care for women.

Dr. Dalpinder Sandhu: "In the past, we did a poor job of it but recently in the last 10-15 years... the American Heart Association has come a long way."

But some women still aren't treated for heart disease, as quickly as a man might be, even with the same symptoms.

Donna Marie Mackay complained of chest pain, shortness of breath and back pain, but her doctor told her to just take it easy. It turned out, she needed open heart surgery.

Donna Marie Mackay: "I couldn't believe it. I was just so stunned".

A study by Cornell University and New-York Presbyterian Hospital says when stress is added to a list of heart symptoms, like shortness of breath, chest pain and fatigue, 56 percent of doctors diagnosed heart disease in men. Only 15 percent of doctor made the same diagnosis in women... and while nearly 50 percent of doctors prescribed heart medication for men... only 13 percent prescribed it for women.

Dr. Sandhu says to change those numbers... women need to pay close attention to more subtle symptoms of heart disease.

Dr. Dalpinder Sandhu: "Shoulder pain, neck discomfort, shortness of breath or sweating spells could be a sign of heart attack and women tend to ignore it more than men do."

Karen no longer ignores what her body tells her, and tells other women to do the same.

Karen Puente: "You need to listen to your body. And all my girlfriends were like, "wow, I'm so glad you had it looked at".

Heart patients come to the St. Agnes Cardiac Rehabilitation Center to rebuild their hearts and their confidence to return to the life they had before their heart incident. For Karen, it was a chance to start a new life, a much healthier one.

Karen has lost 14 pounds, by changing her diet and exercising more. She's making the most of her second chance, by listening better to her heart.

Karen Puente: "With the good lord's help, I'll live to be 99 like my grandma."

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