When it comes to symptoms, medicines and treatments, men and women are not the same. Because of gender based biases in research and diagnoses, the evolution of medical research and development has had the effect of limiting women’s access to the system and to effective treatments. This, despite the fact that women seek more care and services as well as spend more on medicines than men do.
We have yet to fill several knowledge gaps in the area of women’s health. For instance, did you know that cardiovascular disease kills more Canadian women than all the cancers combined? Mortality rates resulting from heart disease and stroke may be decreasing for men, but this is not the case for women. It could be attributable to the fact that on average, women suffer heart attacks ten years later than men do at the age of 65 versus 55 for men.
Still, this may not explain away the unfortunate statistics. The problem is rather complex, and it is unclear whether women present different symptoms or whether women describe their symptoms differently. There is a commonly held belief that cardiovascular disease affects men more often than it does women. Compounded with the fact that women are underrepresented in cardiovascular clinical trials it’s not surprising that men are treated faster for cardiac symptoms and that they receive cardiac interventions faster and more frequently than men do. Women are less likely to receive treatments such as coronary artery bypass graft and angioplasty and they are less likely to see a specialist.
But heart disease is not the only area of medicine where we need to put the focus on women, according to research conducted by Dr. Gillian Hawker, Chief of Medicine at Women’s College Hospital. Women are twice as likely to need joint replacement surgery than men – and three times less likely to have it. Two thirds of Canadians with arthritis are women. They are twice more likely to be disabled by it than men. Despite these figures, women are less likely to get joint replacement for a variety of reasons: they may be offered the option less often, but they may also be less likely to agree to the surgery because of lack of family support and resources and feel they will be unable to care for themselves during recovery.
CARP believes it is important that you and your physicians be sensitive to these issues when undergoing health treatments. This is why we recommend the adoption of a strong Women’s Health Initiative to ensure that there are coordinated efforts underway to be responsive to sex and gender differences, to increase knowledge, research and awareness of women’s health issues, and to support effective health services delivery to women.