Medical inequality between men and women

Today, it’s almost heresy to say there’s inequality between sexes.

Everyone is supposed to enjoy equal rights and I have no problem with this philosophy. But, in medicine, the sexes are far from equal. A report in the health publication, Nutrition Action, shows that a head-in-the-sands approach to sexual inequality can have a severe effect on the diagnosis and outcome of an illness.

Ask anyone what causes a heart attack and they are likely to respond, high cholesterol, lack of exercise, smoking, obesity or diabetes. Some might be aware that a heart attack produces the feeling of an elephant standing on your chest. They would be right as this is what often happens when men suffer a coronary attack. But what about women?

Females are more likely to describe their chest pain as sharp and burning. They’re also more likely to complain of nausea, fatigue, difficulty breathing, dizziness or pain in the jaw, neck or upper body pain. Their pain is also more often related to stress than exertion. Their inability to recognize these symptoms can mean a delayed diagnosis when speedy treatment determines the outcome.

Then there’s the common misconception that coronary attack is a male disease.

Common diagnostic tests to determine heart attack are also less accurate in women than in men. Moreover, if women require bypass surgery, one renowned heart surgeon tells me it’s a more difficult operation. Women’s coronary arteries are smaller than men’s. So much for equality!

Women also believe that breast cancer is more often the reason they may die from a fatal disease.

But by age 55, heart disease deaths exceed death by breast cancer. By age 75, heart disease causes eight times more deaths than breast malignancy in women!

What about osteoarthritis, the wear-and-tear type, which affects so many people as we age?

Dr. Mary O’Connor, director of the Musculoskeletal Center at Yale School of Medicine, reports that women are more likely to suffer from arthritis of the knee. She says that women have weaker muscles resulting in less protection for the knee joint.

She adds that men produce more testosterone which builds stronger muscles.

And it’s the quadriceps, the muscles on the front of the leg, which aid the knee by absorbing the impact of walking or running. In addition, studies show that men requiring knee replacements are generally men with weaker quadriceps.

O’Connor stresses what I have often written, prevention of weight gain is mandatory. She says that just 10 pounds of extra weight increases the load on the knees by 30 to 60 pounds! So women who gain weight are four times more likely to develop arthritic knees.

There’s a good example of the ‘Gifford-Jones Law’, that one bad thing leads to another and another. In this case weight gain causes painful arthritis, so activity decreases, which then contributes to more obesity. The secret is to keep moving, which helps the flow of synovial fluid to lubricate the joint.

It’s also ironic that women suffer more strokes than men.

In this case it’s because they live longer when strokes are more common. Again, the outcome often hinges on insufficient knowledge of this disease.

In 2011 the Heart and Stroke Foundation polled over 1,000 women and discovered that half did not know that sudden weakness or numbness in the arm, leg or face was a sign of stroke. Even more were unaware that trouble speaking, vision problems or severe headache could be signs of stroke. So women were less likely to receive a speedy diagnosis and the drug tPA to dissolve the blood clot. This clot-buster must be given within three hours of the event to be effective.

Alas, women even get the short end of the deal when drinking an alcoholic drink. George Kobb at the National Institute of Health says women are more affected by alcohol as their bodies contain less water to dilute the alcohol in their blood.

So I’m sorry, ladies, it’s not that I or other males dislike women.

It’s simply that sexual equality is unequal.

See the web site for medical tips. For comments, email

Remember, I am not your doctor and this column is not meant to diagnose or treat disease and only for informational purposes. So always consult with your doctor.

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