Gender differences greatly affect diagnosis and treatment
Medical researchers recently proved that men do in fact come from Mars and women from Venus. The U.S. firm GeneLogic makes “sample cards” from chromosomes, which display a variety of colours indicating whether a particular gene is present, plus whether it is “on” or “off” and to what degree. The sample cards show something remarkable: men and women appear to differ much more from one another at the basic genetic level than was previously thought. And this offers an explanation for the newfound fact that medicines often affect women differently than men.
Most medicines have been tested exclusively on men. Women were often excluded from medical research because of potential risks in the event they were pregnant.
It was long assumed that men and women reacted the same way to medicines. Only in the past 10 years has it been required that every medical study include female participants. But there are still many medicines on the market that have only been tested on men—which can pose serious consequences for women.
Pharmacists, doctors and governments are now concluding that the differences between men and women don’t stop at breasts and sexual organs and are looking for treatments and medicines specifically geared towards women.
Scientists are discovering that every cell in the body has a specific gender, which implies a myriad of potential variations. In many ways, men and women appear to differ not only genetically, but also biochemically. Throughout the body, hormones appear to have gender-specific traits: in the hair, brains, liver, tissue, bones and so on. These hormones not only determine sexual differences, but regulate such things as enzyme and protein production, which means they dictate most of our metabolic processes.
The news that women are more than just “small men” hasn’t yet gotten through to many doctors. As a result, women are still frequently misdiagnosed, reports Spirituality %Amp% Health (September/October 2004). Dr. Saralyn Mark, one of the first to see the need for a gender-specific approach to medicine, remembers women regularly came to the emergency room of her San Francisco hospital complaining of nausea, sleeplessness and pain in their chest. Most were sent home by the attending physician because their symptoms were vague. But Mark suspected that the women were having heart attacks and transferred them to the cardiac unit. Her suspicion proved correct. She says the reason that other doctors failed to properly diagnose them was that women’s symptoms often “didn’t look like Hollywood heart attacks.”
Women are regularly given too much, too little or the wrong medicine. Shocking statistics are published on various websites, such as www.womens-health.org, and Marianne J. Legato’s book Eve’s Rib: The New Science of Gender-Specific Medicine and How It Can Save Your Life. For example, eight out of the 10 medicines withdrawn from the market from 1999 to 2004 were particularly dangerous to women. And many pain relievers have a markedly different effect on women—they wear off sooner or don’t work at all.
Women overall face different health concerns. They run three times the risk of developing auto-immune diseases such as arthritis, diabetes and multiple sclerosis and are nine times more likely to contract lupus. Women who smoke as much as men run twice the risk of developing lung cancer. GeneLogic’s genetic sample cards show that the gene that activates enzymes which break down carcinogens in the lungs is active in men but not in women.
Not taking account of women’s menstrual cycle also leads to misdiagnosis. In half of all cases, breast cancer goes undiagnosed when a mammography is performed at the wrong time in the cycle. And monthly hormonal cycles affect the degree to which some medicines are effective.
Taking account of the biological differences between women and men is not only important for women, but for men. For example, doctors still don’t understand why men run a higher risk of developing bladder cancer than women. We also don’t know why men and women use different areas of their brain for the same tasks. And why do women live longer? By taking the differences between men and women seriously, these questions could be answered and care for both sexes improved.
Vive la différence
· More women than men die from heart disease. Women suffer heart attacks an average of 10 years later than men.
· Women suffer two to three times more often from depression, partly because the female brain produces less serotonin (the “happy hormone”).
· Eighty percent of osteoporosis sufferers are women.
· Smoking is more damaging to the hearts of women than men. It’s harder for women to quit smoking than men and they suffer more withdrawal symptoms.
· Women run a greater risk of contracting a sexually transmitted disease (STD).
· Women come out of anesthesia sooner than men. Many antibiotics have different side effects on women than men.
· Three-quarters of people with auto-immune diseases, such as arthritis or diabetes, are women.
· Women who drink the same amount of alcohol as men, and are the same size, may be affected differently because women produce less of an enzyme that has been shown to break down alcohol in the stomach.
· Some painkillers, such as the so-called kappa opiates, are much more effective on women than on men.