Ms. Understood? Male-centric healthcare remains the biggest threat to women’s health

claudia rupnik
Photo: 
If you’re a woman, you’re at a greater risk of being misdiagnosed and improperly treated in common medical situations—period.
 
In medicine, the methods for evaluating, diagnosing, and treating disease for both men and women are based on previous research conducted on male cells, animals, and bodies. However, women are physiologically, neurologically, cognitively, socially, and experientially unique from men. This means medicine that helps men isn’t always designed to also help women. 
 
In the past, women were exempted from drug trials for a number of reasons, like the possibility that they might get pregnant during the trial. Menstrual cycles, with their characteristically fluctuating hormone levels, were also viewed as an unnecessary variable. 
 
Testing on men allowed researchers to get a clearer picture of a drug’s effect, tailoring the current medical model to male standards. For example, a man experiencing a heart attack might experience pain in the left arm or chest heaviness. In the same situation, women often report only mild discomfort, fatigue, and shortness of breath.
 
Because stereotypical cardiac symptoms are based on how men typically experience cardiovascular events, early signs of impending heart attacks were missed in 78 per cent of Canadian women as of 2018.
 
Women can’t recognize what’s happening inside their own bodies because they haven’t been taught to identify non-traditional symptoms. Health professionals are also delayed in recognizing symptoms for the same reasons.
 
The misunderstanding of women’s hearts has serious consequences: women who have a heart attack are more likely to die compared to men. Nevertheless, Heart and Stroke reported in 2018 that two thirds of heart disease clinical research still focused on men. 
 
Women also metabolize drugs differently than men. 
 
In 2014, nearly 20 years after the drug’s initial release, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), and later Health Canada, halved the recommended dosage of Ambien for women because they found women were still impaired the morning after taking the drug. 
 
The different effects were linked to higher percentages of body fat in women compared to men, different heart rhythms, the effect of female sex hormones on the liver’s functions, and the smaller size of women’s kidneys. The initial dosage didn’t account for the differences in chromosomes, hormones, bodily systems, and structures.
 
This was the FDA’s first sex-specific prescribing guideline.
 
It’s important to trust your doctor’s expertise, but it’s also critical to ask questions when you’re receiving treatment. Was the medication you’re being prescribed tested on women? Has the doctor seen any disparity in outcomes between male and female patients? Are you taking the sex-appropriate dose?
 
For their part, medical professionals and researchers can ask these questions themselves when dealing with women’s health. Those currently practicing should aim to provide the most individualized treatment possible. 
 
The medical system is entrenched in its male-centric history. Until it’s addressed, women are at risk.
 
Claudia is a fourth-year French student and The Journal’s News Editor.
 

When commenting, be considerate and respectful of writers and fellow commenters. Try to stay on topic. Spam and comments that are hateful or discriminatory will be deleted. Our full commenting policy can be read here.