Medicine’s feminine mystique

Posted on October 19, 2011 in Equality Debates

Source: — Authors: – 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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One Response to “Medicine’s feminine mystique”

  1. Heather McAlister says:

    The fact that women’s issues are just now coming to the forefront of healthcare is truly disturbing but not at all surprising. Medicine’s beginnings, like many other institutions in society, were completely dominated by male influence. Male doctors conducted research on male participants, and the findings produced the use of medications and procedures that were administered to female patients without the recognition that they are distinct beings. Once again, the dominant group’s ideals were reflected before any other group was considered. This post-modernist critique can be applied to people of different ethnicities, religion, and socio-economic backgrounds as their individual needs have not always been recognized or considered in healthcare.
    Going forward, medical professionals should view all women, not only aging women as the article suggests, differently compared to their male counterparts. After all, whether or not this alternative viewpoint is adopted is most often the case of life or death for many females.


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