What’s Good for the Goose May Not be Good for the Gander

“For nearly 25 years, the Society for Women’s Health Research has fought for more research into gender differences in health and medicine. We’re pleased to see this critical issue for women getting the increased attention it deserves. The more women know how treatments may affect them differently from men, the healthier they will be. SWHR also actively supports the study of gender differences in heart disease. We encourage more study on the different risk factors for each gender. SWHR is proud to lead the way in exploring how diseases and conditions affect women more than, or differently from, men.”—Phyllis Greenberger, President and CEO, Society for Women’s Health Research

Men and women are different. It seems obvious, but apparently it’s not obvious when it comes to medical research, diagnostics and treatment.

Aside from the visible anatomical differences, women and men have the same organs—livers, lungs, hearts, etc.

For the most part, men and women have been seen by the medical establishment as though they were one and the same. And the medical profession has, until recently, thought what was good for the goose was good for the gander.

Scientists, researchers and doctors are now finding that this is not true. How we diagnose, treat and prescribe for men and women is being turned on its head.

Researchers are starting to do research on gender-related differences across a whole host of areas in medicine. They are beginning to conclude that gender must be taken into account when considering the effective and safe administration, dosage, and duration of treatment with medications, as well as in the diagnosis and treatment of certain diseases.

An example of this is low-dose aspirin, which has a different cardiovascular benefit for women than it does for men. Aspirin cuts men’s risk of heart attack by 32%, but not their risk of stroke. By contrast, aspirin cuts women’s risk of stroke by 17%, but not their risk of heart attack.

Another example of the need for gender specific medicine is heart disease—the leading cause of death for American women. One in 3 women die due to heart disease. In fact, heart disease kills more women than all cancers combined.

While men have begun to make some good progress in the diagnosis and treatment of heart disease, 42% of women who have heart attacks die within 1 year, compared to 24% of men, according to the Women’s Heart Foundation. According to the Harvard Medical School teaching hospital Beth Israel Deaconess, over 40% of women do not survive their first heart attack. This makes heart disease prevention a national priority, especially for women. The diagnosis of heart attacks in women is so different than for men that women are very often misdiagnosed. Current treatments for heart disease aren’t tailored to a woman’s unique physiology; for example, women have smaller hearts and smaller arteries than men. Information on women and heart disease can be found at www.TMforWomensHeartHealth.org

Important gender differences are already being looked at in the following areas: stem cells, the brain, diabetes, addiction, stroke, depression, cancer, liver diseases, osteoporosis and pharmacology.

Early last year the FDA cut the recommended dose for women of the popular sleep drug Ambien because women metabolize it differently, with 45% more of it remaining in a woman’s body the next day. Women have been overdosing on Ambien for 20 years.

Some say medical research is like Swiss cheese, with the holes representing data on women’s health. Traditionally research has been done almost entirely on men and those conclusions were then applied to both men and women. Even though the law now requires that women be included in studies, the gender-different results are almost never analyzed. Instead, the results are blended. This is detrimental to both men and women. Perhaps everything in research and medicine needs to be reviewed in the light of potential significant gender differences.

About the Author

Vanessa Vidal is the national director of TM for Women in the USA

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