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Attention Women: How Gender Differences Influence Your Health

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Males and females are unique from the moment of conception. Yet medicine has treated women as if they’re merely smaller men. According to Dr. Sarah L. Berga, M.D., doctors used to attribute medical differences in gender responses to the disparity in body size between women and men. Then they began realizing that innately, their bodies are different. In the late 1980s, physicians and researchers recognized that women’s health encompasses more than conditions like pregnancy that occur in females only. Women’s experiences with gender-common conditions and their treatments are unlike men’s often. Today, ongoing research on gender differences continues to discover how health incidences and outcomes vary between women and men.

Inherent Biological Contrasts

“One of the biggest things we’ve learned is that cellular biology is sex-specific,” Berga said. “Every single cell has a chromosomal sex, and the cellular machinery is independent of hormones. But we’ve also learned that most sex differences are the result of the interaction between this chromosomal distinction and hormones.” As a result, the commonly accepted theory is that a biological basis for sex differences exists in a number of common conditions including heart disease, stroke, colon cancer, arthritis, depression, and dementia. Active research is studying why other conditions like obesity, multiple sclerosis, bronchitis, asthma, and thyroid disease occur more frequently in women than men. Berga notes that the medical community is beginning to understand that the genders differ in very fundamental ways. Discovering how these discrepancies affect disease risks, symptoms, diagnoses, and treatment responses is changing medical care for both genders. Now doctors need to adjust their approaches and develop gender-specific interventions and therapies to benefit all patients effectively. Berga says that the best way to do that is through research that compares men and women directly.

Startling Study Findings

Scientists are now studying gender differences from basic studies on cells to large clinical trials involving thousands of patients; this new research aims to understand health variations between males and females at all levels. The results can improve health care for both women and men. Wake Forest Baptist studies and other researchers have found that:
  • Male fetuses start life in the womb with a higher mortality rate than females. Health-wise, females are the stronger sex throughout life. The overall mortality rate is 41 percent higher for men than women. According to the National Center for Health, women live 5.1 years longer than men.
  • Women are more likely to develop lung cancer than men.
  • Females are less prone to liver cancer than males, possibly due to estrogen’s protective effect against inflammation in the liver.
  • Women account for 90 percent of primary biliary cirrhosis cases.
  • Low to moderate alcohol consumption, fewer than three drinks per day, causes higher blood ethanol levels in women than men, making females more susceptible to alcoholic liver diseases such as hepatitis.
  • While men have a higher stroke likelihood, women are more apt to die from this condition. Those who survive have a worse quality of life than their male counterparts.
  • Atrial fibrillation increases heart attack risk in women more than men.
  • Women having heart attacks are much more likely to call 9-1-1 for help than men.
  • In women, aspirin reduces ischemic stroke chances. But in men, low-dose aspirin therapy decreases heart attack likelihood.
  • High blood pressure is potentially more dangerous for women than men.
  • Lupus is more severe in males than females often, and they’re more likely to experience lupus-related kidney failure.
  • Among people undergoing total hip replacement, women were 29 percent more likely than men to require repeat surgery within the first three years.
  • The severity of osteoarthritis usually is significantly worse in women.
  • Men are three times more likely to have antisocial personality disorder, but women have a higher risk for persistent depression than men.
  • While suicide attempts are three times more common among women, men have a higher rate for completed suicide.

Health Care Service Exceptions

Doctor examining young patient CanadianPharmacyMeds.comWomen and men have different health care habits and needs, which affect their well-being in significant ways. Over their lifetimes, due in part to reproductive health issues, women rely on the health care system more than their male peers. Women are more likely to be the primary family caregivers, so their decisions affect the health of children and men in their households as well. This responsibility may contribute to why women tend to seek diagnoses and treatments more often than men. Check out the FAQ about Canadian pharmacies to discover the many advantages of ordering your family’s medications online.  

Overcoming Limitations

Unfortunately, studies finding substantial gender deviations haven’t had a widespread impact on differentiating medical care methods yet. Berga notes that doctors still base the vast majority of diagnoses, therapies, and drug dosages for common conditions on adult white males’ symptoms, responses, and outcomes. The old goal was to simplify, increase efficiency, and create a one-size-fits-all solution. When that model doesn’t work, scientists need to determine why not and how to fix it. But time, money, and other limiting factors make that a big challenge. In general, Berga is in favor of pursuing change. “Now that we have the tools to find out certain things, we should use them,” she said. “The more we know about individual people, the better we can help them.”

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