Because women and men have different bodies, their health care needs
are not the same. Not only are some body parts specific to men and women (like
the prostate or the uterus), but diseases and medical problems may show up
in different ways in women than they do in men. In order to understand these
differences, doctors and scientists study female and male medical problems
as well as diseases that affect both men and women.
Physiology, or how the body works, is different between
the sexes. Sex, the biological makeup of each person (based on
his or her genes and chromosomes), is different from gender,
which is how society and each particular culture see the roles of men and
women. In addition to male and female bodies working differently, women and
men deal with their health care needs in different ways.
The January 22/29, 2003, issue of JAMA includes an article
about the roles of sex and gender and how they influence health care and medical
Women’s health care is much more than treatment related to childbirth
or menopause. Women are more likely to have certain medical problems than
men and may respond to medications differently than men do. Women and men
may have different symptoms for the same medical problem.
Heart (also called cardiac) disease, the number one killer
of women in the United States, often has mild or no symptoms in women until
they have a deadly heart attack. The heart-related pain (angina)
in the left side of the chest, common in men with heart disease, is less commonly
present in women who have heart disease.
Some mental illnesses, such as depression, happen more often in women.
Other mental illnesses are more common in males, including attention-deficit
disorder and autism.
Other medical problems shown to be different in men and women include urinary incontinence (loss of urine), diabetes, acquired immunodeficiency
syndrome (AIDS), irritable bowel syndrome, arthritis, and obesity.
Also, it is important to know that studies have shown that women and men experience
pain differently. Women may not receive enough treatment for their pain because
of these differences.
In the past, women were often not included in medical research studies.
Therefore, results of these studies were based only on the men who took part
in these studies. Those results were often analyzed with only a male point
of view. Now, scientists study women separately as well as mixed with men
in large trials of medications and other treatments.
The reasons for men and women having different responses to diseases,
medications, and treatments may be because of the differences in male and
female genes. Scientists are studying genes, chromosomes, and cells to help
understand these differences.
Several long-term studies of women are ongoing. These trials are examining
things like menopausal hormone therapy, osteoporosis, breast cancer, heart
disease, and diabetes. Results of these studies are reported in major medical
journals, including JAMA. Discuss with your doctor any questions you may have
about these research studies and their impact on your health.
National Institutes of Health Office of Research on Women’s
American Heart Association 800/242-8721www.americanheart.org
Depression and Bipolar Support Alliancewww.mooddisorders.org
National Institute of Mental Health 800/421-4211 www.nimh.nih.gov
To find this and previous JAMA Patient Pages, go to the
Patient Page Index on JAMA ’s Web site at www.jama.com.
They are available in English and Spanish. A Patient Page on women and heart
disease was published in the December 25, 2002, issue, and Patient Pages on
depression were published in the August 14, 2002, February 13, 2002, and September
27, 2000, issues.
The JAMA Patient Page is a public service of JAMA . The information and recommendations appearing on this page are appropriate
in most instances, but they are not a substitute for medical diagnosis. For
specific information concerning your personal medical condition, JAMA suggests that you consult your physician. This page may
be photocopied noncommercially by physicians and other health care professionals
to share with patients. Any other print or online reproduction is subject
to AMA approval. To purchase bulk reprints, call 718/946-7424.
Sources: National Institutes of Health Office of Research
on Women’s Health, American Heart Association
Topic: WOMEN'S HEALTH
Torpy JM, Lynm C, Glass RM. Men and Women Are Different. JAMA. 2003;289(4):510. doi:10.1001/jama.289.4.510