Gender bias in healthcare is hurting women
2019-06-17 from theglobeandmail.com
Imagine someone having a heart attack. Do you picture a man clutching his chest? Hollywood almost always portrays the “classic heart attack” by a man. In fact, even though heart disease is the leading killer of women worldwide, the misconception that heart disease is a men’s disease has persisted and it has had a negative impact on care for women.
Gender bias and misconception are by no means limited to heart-attack symptoms. That bias exists throughout the health-care system, from medical research to disease diagnostic and treatment approaches. If we are to address this grim reality with the urgency it requires, more attention must be paid by the broader public, who might not be aware of this dangerous gap in knowledge, and by scientists, who must include both sexes in biomedical research.
One notable example of gender bias in medicine is in the treatment of high-blood pressure, also known as hypertension. Hypertension affects one in five Canadian adults, based on a survey from Statistics Canada and is the leading cause of premature death in the developed world. Scientists have long shown that men generally have higher blood pressure and are at greater risk for heart and kidney diseases. Despite these well-known differences, men and women suffering from high-blood pressure are often prescribed the same medication. This one-size-fits-all approach is problematic: even though women with hypertension are more likely than men to be treated and take their medication, incredibly, only 45 per cent of treated women achieve blood-pressure control, compared to 51 per cent of treated men.
Historically, scientists conduct medical research studies primarily in male animals and men. In 1982, the Physician’s Health Study – a landmark study conducted by researchers at the Harvard Medical School – examined the effect of aspirin on heart disease and enrolled more than 22,000 participants. Strikingly, not a single one of them was female. In the 1970s, the Food and Drug Administration in the United States banned women of child-bearing age from being enrolled in phase one clinical trials. That ban remained for 20 years and was only lifted in 1993.
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