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Gender Matters When It Comes to Illness

Gender Matters When It Comes to Illness Experts still know very little about gender-specific differences in illness, particularly when it comes to disease symptoms, social and psychological factors, and the ramifications of these differences for treatment and prevention. But a new¬†article highlights evidence for considerable differences between the sexes in five domains — cardiovascular disease, cancer, liver diseases, osteoporosis, and pharmacology.

Medical research has focused almost exclusively on male patients. Given the seriousness of cardiovascular (CVD) disease, the knowledge that it presents markedly different symptoms in women can be critically important.

While a constricted chest and pain that radiates through the left arm are standard signs of heart attack in men, in women the usual symptoms are nausea and lower abdominal pain.

Although heart attacks in women are more severe and complicated, when complaining of these non-specific symptoms women often do not receive the necessary examination procedures, such as an ECG, enzyme diagnostic tests or coronary angiography.

Another serious illness is colon cancer, the second most common form of cancer among men and women. Women contract this disease at a later stage in life than men. Colon tumors are often located in a different part of the colon among women, and they respond better to specific chemical treatments.

Furthermore, gender also has an impact on the patient’s responsiveness to chemotherapy administered to treat cancer, such as colon, lung, or skin cancer.

Primary biliary 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.

Osteoporosis is another disease that primarily affects women, although men can also develop this disease. In fact, osteoporosis is often overlooked in male patients resulting in a higher mortality rate among men suffering bone fractures.

In the study, Giovannella Baggio, M.D., and her team showed variation between men and women in the pharmacology of aspirin and other substances.

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.

As such, effective and safe medication administration should take the patient’s gender into account.

Researchers believe 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.

Source: Versita

Comparison of a man and woman photo by shutterstock.

Gender Matters When It Comes to Illness

Rick Nauert PhD

Rick Nauert, PhDDr. Rick Nauert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Nauert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.

APA Reference
Nauert PhD, R. (2018). Gender Matters When It Comes to Illness. Psych Central. Retrieved on October 28, 2020, from
Scientifically Reviewed
Last updated: 8 Aug 2018 (Originally: 25 Mar 2013)
Last reviewed: By a member of our scientific advisory board on 8 Aug 2018
Published on Psych All rights reserved.