Doctors Need to Take Gender into Account When Treating Menopausal Women

Dorian Martin Health Guide
  • So when you go to the doctor, do you feel like you’re treated as an individual? More importantly, do you feel like your health issues are considered and treated thoughtfully based on the fact that you’re a woman?

    Let me explain. For many years, the doctors would make diagnoses based on research that was primary done on men. In fact, a recent New York Times story stated, “Name a new drug or treatment, and odds are researchers know are more about its effect on men than on women. From sleeping pills to statins, women have been blindsided by side effects and dosage miscalculations that were not discovered until after the product hit the market.”

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    Finally, governmental agencies and researchers are starting to find that women’s bodies respond differently than men’s bodies do to health conditions; however, that doesn’t mean that medical doctors take gender into account when making diagnoses or specifying treatments. Therefore, as we age, it’s critically important that you make sure that your doctor approaches all diagnoses and treatment plans based on the fact that you’re a woman.

    Take diabetes, which women are at increased risk to develop as we age, as an example. The North American Menopause Society reported that diabetes is the sixth highest killer of women between the ages of 45 and 54 and the fourth highest killer of women between the ages of 55 and 64.  Besides increasing the risk of heart disease, having diabetes increases a woman’s risk of becoming blind and having kidney disease and nerve disease.  “Does menopause increase diabetes risk? That hasn’t been an easy question for researchers to answer,” the society’s website states. “It’s hard to separate the effects of menopause from the effects of age and weight. But it does look like hormones do have something to do with it.”

    Now let’s look at gender differences in the treatment of diabetes. After conducting a meta-analysis that looked at 64 studies involving more than 850,000 people that were conducted between 1966 and 2013, Australian researchers found that the risk of coronary heart disease is between 40-50 percent higher in women with diabetes than in men with diabetes.

    The researchers hypothesized that men may develop type 2 diabetes much earlier than women and weigh less when they develop it. Therefore, doctors may recommend aggressive treatment sooner for both cardiovascular risks and diabetes for these male patients.

    In comparison, women are not diagnosed as soon. In fact, the researchers found that the women’s body mass index was nearly two units higher than men’s at the time of diagnosis.  The researchers also found that women who were diabetic were nearly three times more likely to have developed cardiovascular disease than women who didn’t have diabetes.

    These findings led researchers to believe that women need to receive more aggressive treatment when they reach the stage of having pre-diabetes, which is the time when resistance to insulin starts to happen.  The researchers recommended increased screening for pre-diabetes among women and a more stringent follow-up for those who are deemed at high risk of developing this condition.

  • Because of these findings, I’d encourage you to have conversations with your primary care physician as well as any specialists that you see about their approach to diagnosing and treating conditions. Ask them if they’re taking the fact that you’re a female into account. If they aren’t, encourage them to do so – or else find a new doctor that will take this approach.

    Primary Sources for This Sharepost:

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    MedlinePlus. (2014). Diabetes may be bigger threat to the female heart: Study.

    Rabin, R. C. (2014). Labs are told to start including a neglected variable: Females. New York Times.

    The North American Menopause Society. (ND). Diabetes hits women hard at menopause: Beat it back.

Published On: May 23, 2014