How often have you gone to the doctor for a health concern only to be dismissed or told that what you are feeling is inaccurate? In an age where the average medical appointment is 15 minutes at best, how is a doctor able to listen to what is the concern, diagnose, and come up with a treatment plan all while making the patient feel comfortable and heard? To me, this is a tall order for 15 minutes. What is happening more often is what’s called allopathic medicine -where a prescription is prescribed to treat the symptoms rather than listening to what is really going on and getting down to the core cause of the visit. No one WANTS to be sick. No one WANTS to have a cabinet full of prescriptions that’s just a Band-Aid for a problem – or better yet, the problem that is created from the first Band-Aid.
What is Gender Bias?
Extensive studies have shown that there are different biological anatomical differences and chemical processes between men and women. Men tend to have larger organs and denser bones compared to a woman of the same height. Then there are the obvious hormone and reproductive differences. Something that shows up in medicine and clinical trials is that the male body is the ‘normal’ and preferred when it comes to research. The male body has been studied more extensively for medical purposes and that information is applied to the female body with some slight tweaks since we have always been thought to be smaller versions of men.
Let’s Research That
Research and clinical trials date back to 500 B.C. While research and clinical trials aren’t, what is a new concept is the inclusion of women in these studies. It wasn’t until the 1970’s that women were suggested to be included in these trials – especially the ones that pertain to women’s health. But what is even more shocking is that to this day we are still a minority at the research table. Heart disease is the number 1 killer of women touching 1 in 3 women each year. Women are more than 50% more likely to die within the year after a heart attack. Even with these high numbers, women only receive 17 cents per female for research compared to the $4 per man. Going back to the fact that our bodies are smaller on average than men’s means that we present disease differently. For this reason, we go underdiagnosed. And since research has been done on men, their presentation is classified as ‘typical’ whereas the way a woman presents is ‘atypical’ prolonging a diagnosis and laying the patient prey to further damage.
One of the main reasons that women have been excluded from medical research is because of the hormone fluctuations that occur throughout the month. Since men don’t have the hormonal changes, they have been deemed able to give a truer, cleaner outcome when it comes to results for testing. Women’s hormone changes are thought to create inconsistency in the outcomes and make it harder to keep track of underliers. Since women aren’t the main focus of the research, we are 50% more likely to be misdiagnosed, and wait up to 4 years for diagnosis with many cancers.
Who is That Drug REALLY Meant For?
Drug trials are another area women have been ignored. This goes back to the hormone changes making it harder for researchers to track outcomes. It has always been taboo to test on a pregnant woman for fear of what could happen to the baby. Because of this taboo women who were pregnant, or could become pregnant, during the trial were excluded. This taboo has left woman-centered health again on the back burner. Since there has been such little knowledge about women’s health, drugs have been prescribed in gender-neutral doses. This form of prescription ignores body size, fat, and muscle differences, along with hormone ratio differences. Ignoring these major differences has caused women to have higher drug reactions compared to men. It hasn’t been until recently that researchers found that women metabolize at slower rates than men.
Since women have not been included in many of the drugs developed to treat female diseases – men have been the main participants in these trials. Based on data collected from these drug trials, the FDA approved drugs that have major side effects for women but were not present in men. In 2005, 8 out of 10 drugs were withdrawn from the US market due to the health issues they caused for women. This is an alarming revelation since women use on average 56% of the prescriptions prescribed each year.
In recent years, we have seen a lot of progress be made in the health and wellness realm in the form of products and apps. But we need to keep in mind that health and wellness and scientific facts are not the same things. There are things we can do to optimize the 15 minutes given when with the doctor. When looking for a new provider, put them through the interview process. Ask yourself, “how is this provider going to be able to help you meet your goals?” Create a log of symptoms and write down important questions before heading into the office. Know your labs. There are differences between standard and functional labs and the ranges they use. Knowing what labs to request, and how to read them, will be a big game changer. Making sure that you are an active participant can make a HUGE difference in your treatment and your overall experience. If you are interested in learning more about self-advocating or have questions regarding some health snags, we urge you to reach out to us at Radiate Wellness and schedule a Strategy Session with one of our team members at https://calendly.com/radiatewellness/15min. Together we can figure out how to get your health back on track.
- Gender bias in medicine – sage journals. (n.d.). Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/pdf/10.2217/17455057.4.3.237
- Bhatt, A. (2010, January). Evolution of clinical research: A history before and beyond James Lind. Perspectives in clinical research. Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3149409/
- Greater Investment in women’s heart disease research could yield big payoff. www.goredforwomen.org. (2022, July 11). Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://www.goredforwomen.org/en/about-heart-disease-in-women/latest-research/womens-research-funding
- Hillman, S. (n.d.). I am a medical feminist. Sarah Hillman: I am a medical feminist | TED Talk. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://www.ted.com/talks/sarah_hillman_i_am_a_medical_feminist
- Holdcroft, A. (2007, January). Gender bias in research: How does it affect evidence based medicine? Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1761670/
- TEDxTalks. (2019, November 6). Gender bias creates a culture of disbelief for female patients | Colene Arnold | TEDxPortsmouth. YouTube. Retrieved August 15, 2022, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=U1XvFSoUhWI&t=720s
- Taking on gender bias in clinical trials: National Women’s Health Network. National Women’s Health Network |. (2020, December 30). Retrieved August 17, 2022, from https://nwhn.org/taking-on-gender-bias-in-clinical-trials/