20 November 2007
Women's Health A Very Different Ballgame
Women's bodies and medical needs are vastly different than men's way beyond their reproductive systems, say the doctors behind a new research institute at Northwestern University. The Institute for Women's Health Research will concentrate on much needed research on health issues that affect women throughout their lifespan. Some topics on the ambitious research agenda include: cancer, autoimmune disease, anesthesia, cardiovascular disease, depression, sleeping disorders, osteoporosis, osteoarthritis and menopause.
"We should look at every research study with a sex and gender lens and see what applies to women as opposed to men," said Teresa Woodruff, executive director of the new institute. "What are the differences between women and men that need further exploration? What does gender mean in development of disease throughout the lifespan? What is the influence of hormones? We have many questions, but we don't have concrete answers."
To produce that knowledge, Woodruff is reaching out to researchers at the university and its clinical affiliates with grants to encourage them to incorporate gender differences into their studies. "We are trying to instill the premise that biological sex matters in everybody's thought processes," she said, noting that many scientists have never considered gender in their research.
Woodruff cited a number of common diseases and conditions that affect males and females quite differently:
- Cancer - Women are more susceptible to the carcinogenic effect of tobacco as smokers and nonsmokers.
- Autoimmune disease - Women are two to seven times more likely to develop an autoimmune disease.
- Anesthesia - Women wake sooner from anesthesia, experience more nausea and respond to pain medications differently than men.
- Cardiovascular disease - Women are more likely to have less familiar symptoms of cardiovascular disease and be misdiagnosed upon assessment. Cardiovascular disease is the top cause of mortality in women (and men), yet men are treated more aggressively when they are admitted with suspected acute coronary artery disease.
- Gastroenterology - Women between ages 20 to 60 are three times more likely to develop gallstones than men.
- Musculoskeletal - Eighty percent of hip fractures occur in women. Women also are prone to different types of knee injuries than men.
- Neurological - Women are two to three times more likely to suffer from depression and twice as likely as men to have a sleeping disorder.
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Source: Northwestern University