Medicine’s feminine mystique
TheStar.com – opinion/editorials
Published On Tue Oct 18 2011.
Ten years ago the American Medical Association reported some startling discoveries: women are at much higher risk than men for autoimmune diseases; they are physically harmed more by cigarette smoke and alcohol; their risk for heart disease increases after menopause. Until then medical textbooks made little mention of differences between men’s and women’s health. Pharmaceutical companies were more prone to test new drugs on men. And male mice were often used in experiments rather than female mice.
That attitude towards women’s health care is rapidly changing, pushed by women’s demands and conferences such as the one at Toronto’s Baycrest centre this week looking at women’s brains. The conference is the first in Canada to focus on women’s brain health. Women account for 70 per cent of new dementia cases, partly because they live longer than men and partly because lower levels of estrogen play a role after hysterectomies or menopause.
Doctors now know that women react quite differently than men to common events such as heart attacks, which may not involve chest pain or pain radiating down the arm, but rather flu-like symptoms. Women, even when they don’t smoke, are more susceptible than men to lung cancer. Some AIDS-fighting medicines metabolize more quickly in men than in women. All this knowledge, discovered within the past decade, is forcing the medical profession to look at aging women differently. The conference is a consequence of that, and it’s welcome news that ways are being found to treat women differently.
Women don’t yet have equal opportunity in the boardroom. But when it comes to some illnesses, they get more than their share. It’s high time that science reflected that.
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