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2023 04 26 gender health gap title de

Gender Health Gap: What is it and why is it so important?

Did you know that women have different heart attack symptoms than men - and therefore die from them more often? Read here what gender medicine is and why it can save lives.

Our desire for equality is getting louder and louder. Not least thanks to education on social media, which is bringing the many important issues surrounding the topic more and more into the spotlight. One of these much-discussed topics is the gender health gap. Women and men are not equal, but we should be equal - and in all areas of life. However, there is still no equality in medicine and this has fatal consequences for many women. Did you know that most women have completely different symptoms to men when they have a heart attack? Because we ourselves misclassify the symptoms and even doctors are sometimes not trained well enough, many more women die as a result of an undiagnosed heart attack. However, this is only a small part of the problem, gender medicine could save lives and we explain why.

What is gender medicine?

The gender health gap describes the problem that most medical decisions, medicines and vaccinations are authorised on the basis of data from men. The difficulty with this is that women's and men's bodies do not react to everything in the same way and this can have serious consequences for female patients.

It was not until 1993 that the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) decided that women had to be included in studies. The main reason why this was not dared before 1993 is: In early study phases, it was not yet possible to assess the negative effect on future pregnancies and the fertility of the participants. This is why studies with many female participants are usually more time-consuming, more complex and more expensive. Nevertheless, since 2001 there has also been a legal guideline in Europe that stipulates the number of women in studies. But why is this not enough?

That's why gender medicine is important

The problem is, it's just a guideline. What is good for one gender may be irrelevant or even life-threatening for the other. One demand of the Gender Health Gap movement, for example, is to pay greater attention to the difference between the sexes when training future doctors. Women are often misdiagnosed or turned away, especially when it comes to diagnostics. The reason for this lies in the healthcare system - the symptoms and disease progression of women are less well researched than those of men.

As a result, some doctors misjudge or misclassify certain symptoms because diseases manifest themselves differently in women. Probably the best-known example of this is a heart attack; the symptoms could not be more different between the sexes. The consequences of this are underlined by the figures: In 2021, 35.7 per cent of women in Austria died from cardiovascular disease. That's 2.8 per cent more than men. 2.8 per cent doesn't sound like much at first, but you have to bear in mind that cardiovascular diseases also occur much more frequently in men. Among other reasons, the high mortality rate is also attributed to the frequent misdiagnosis, as the symptoms that occur more frequently in women, such as nausea, vomiting or exhaustion, are often underestimated. Whereas the classic symptoms of a heart attack, such as shortness of breath, chest pain and pain in the upper abdomen, are usually recognised immediately.

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The dose makes the poison

Side effects and intolerances are inevitable when drugs that were largely developed for men are used to treat women. The two sexes also differ in terms of the ideal dosage. As a result, medicines and vaccinations are often overdosed in women. The reason for this lies in genetics: women are equipped with two Y chromosomes, while men have one X and one Y chromosome. These chromosomes encode not only external characteristics but also metabolic processes. For example, the female liver finds it more difficult to metabolise some drugs, which can easily lead to an overdose, while male cells have less favourable docking stations for painkillers - which is why men often need more of them.

I'm not hysterical, I'm not well

Almost every woman knows the phrase: "Don't be so hysterical". The word Hysteria comes from the ancient Greek and means uterus. So it's no wonder that this term is primarily associated with women. The view of "female hysteria" has been anchored in our society for a long time and still leaves its mark today. Women still experience what it feels like not to be taken seriously, especially in medical matters. This is not only evident in everyday visits to the doctor, but also in research. Everyone knows the long list of side effects of the pill. When the pill was developed, side effects were considered unavoidable and it was agreed that the end justifies the means. A few years later, research into the male pill was stopped because of these side effects. Depression, mood swings, loss of libido and weight gain put the project on hold for some time. I'm sure the symptoms sound familiar to some, don't they? It seems that the side effects for women were taken less seriously than those for men.

Do not give up!

It's not easy for many women to make themselves heard by doctors. We are quickly labelled as hysterical or overprotective. But if your body is telling you that something is wrong, you should definitely listen to it and stand up for yourself. Observe your symptoms carefully before you go to the doctor and write them down if necessary. When you're ill, it's often particularly difficult to disagree, but try not to let it get you down and listen to your gut feeling. Sometimes this can also mean that you have to change doctors, get a second opinion or make another appointment. The important thing is - don't give up!

Sources:

Women's and gender health (2023)

Gender differences in pharmaceutical research (2023)

The Gender Health Gap (2023)

Tertil (2023), Gender medicine

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