Due to the fact that medical research conducted over the past 40 years has focused almost exclusively on male patients, researchers still know very little about gender-specific differences in illness. But a new analysis in the journal Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine highlights evidence for considerable differences between the sexes in five domains - cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver diseases, osteoporosis, and pharmacology.
Typically perceived as a male illness, cardiovascular disease often displays markedly different symptoms among women. While a constricted chest and pain through the left arm are standard signs of heart attack in men, in women the usual symptoms are nausea and lower abdominal pain. When complaining of these non-specific symptoms, say the study authors, women often do not receive the necessary examination procedures, such as an ECG or enzyme diagnostic tests.
Colon cancer is the second most common form of cancer among men and women. However, women suffer this illness at a later stage in life. Furthermore, colon tumors in women typically have a different location. Gender also has an impact on the patient's responsiveness to chemotherapy administered to treat cancer, such as colon, lung, or skin cancer. In this way, gender impacts the course of the disease and the patient's chances for survival.
Cirrhosis is a liver disease that primarily affects women. The authors of the study provide clear evidence that for this disease and chronic hepatitis C, the genetic makeup and differing hormone levels of females are a primary risk factor.
This finding also applies to osteoporosis. While typically viewed as a female disease because of the much higher rate of female patients, osteoporosis also strikes men. The study contends that osteoporosis is too often overlooked in male patients, and it documents a higher mortality rate among men suffering bone fractures.
Study author Giovannella Baggio, of Padua University Hospital, also show variation between men and women in the pharmacology of aspirin and other drugs. She says differences in action and side effects are attributable to different body types, varying reaction times in the absorption and elimination of substances, and a fundamentally different hormonal status.
Baggio concludes that additional and more far-reaching clinical investigations of gender differences are needed in order to eliminate fundamental inequalities between men and women in the treatment of disease.
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Source: Clinical Chemistry and Laboratory Medicine