Hello, His and Her Healthcare
Medicine now recognizes that women are different
Women only. Albain, for example, is helping to direct a women-only trial of Xyotax, a drug that appeared in two previous studies to do a better job of extending survival in women with lung cancer than in men. One theory: Estrogen may boost an enzyme required to make the drug active. Tailoring cancer treatments to gender may be just a way station en route to much more personalized treatments, in which a tumor's genetic blueprint dictates the drug of choice.
Mental disorders most likely affect sexes differently for both biological and social reasons. Girls report more depression than boys starting in puberty, for example; about twice as many women as men will be diagnosed with depression during their lifetime. A host of biological causes are suspected, says Legato, including sex-specific genes, hormones, and differences in brain chemistry. Stress can play a more significant role in setting off depression in women, perhaps for social and cultural as well as biological reasons. It's been more socially acceptable for women to ask for help with depression, for example. "Women have larger social networks, and they support us, but when something adverse happens to the individuals in the network," its members are affected, says Carolyn Mazure, director of women's health research at Yale. "It's the cost of caring." Women are also more likely than men to fall victim to Alzheimer's.
The benefits to men of gender-specific medicine may someday include an understanding of why more male fetuses miscarry, why boys have more developmental disabilities than girls, and why women outlive men. At the moment, researchers are looking at what happens in men with osteoporosis, since they are more likely than women to die following a hip fracture--even though many more women suffer from bone loss. For now, both men and women should be aware that their gender is probably influencing their health--and their healthcare. Women still tend to receive less thorough evaluations and fewer treatment options than men for the same problems, says VCU's Kornstein.
That isn't likely to happen to Weiss again. She left her job as an asset analyst, which demanded a lot of stressful commuting and travel time, and she is now taking medication, exercising again, and being monitored--and she's greatly relieved to know what's going on. "Women need to become aware of problems like this," she says. "My doctors weren't inadequate. They were just not looking for things that men don't have."
Heart disease typically strikes women a decade later but kills more women yearly than men.
After drinking the same amount of alcohol, women have higher blood alcohol than men of the same age.
Women tend to get lung cancer younger than men do--and they respond better to therapy.
Depression is twice as likely in women as in men. Parenting increases her risk--but not his.
Women have different heartbeat rhythms from men and are more likely to develop heart arrhythmias.
Women are 2.7 times more likely than men to develop autoimmune diseases like multiple sclerosis.
Once they're a decade past menopause, more women have high blood pressure than men.
Women feel pain more often and more intensely than men--and respond better to certain pain medications.
Health facts provided by the Society For Women's Health Research and Marianne Legato