Medicine Can Indeed Be “Gender Specific”
While society can debate the magnitude of differences between girls and boys and men and women, one thing has become clear: the world of medicine is not exactly “unisex.” Just as “one size does not fit all,” one type of medical care doesn’t fit all, either.
Recently, we’ve become aware that diagnostic tests and treatments may have different results in women than in men, or that certain considerations must be made for female patients.
Take heart disease, for example. Although one in three women dies of heart disease, women are less likely than men to undergo procedures that open clogged arteries (angioplasty or bypass surgery). They are also more likely to die from heart surgery. And gender affects diagnosis of heart disease, too. A common diagnostic test called thallium stress testing is less reliable in revealing heart damage in women. The reason is that breast tissue blocks the signal produced by a radioactive imaging dye injected into the bloodstream to reveal blood flow to the heart.
Now that this and other such information has come to light, physicians are making efforts to equalize medical care between the sexes. But women should still be on the lookout for ways their medical care might be compromised. To keep your physician on the right, “woman-centered” path, you could ask questions such as the following:
- Am I at greater risk for this condition — or this complication of treatment — because of my sex or race? If so, what can we do about it?
- Could my symptoms be related to menopause/childbirth (or other women’s condition)?
- How would my hormone replacement therapy affect this condition/medication?
- Could these symptoms be related to stress?
- Is there some way I can manage this condition without drugs/surgery?
Below are more tips on how women can take control of their medical treatment:
- Though women often think a female doctor will be easier to communicate with, there are scores of male doctors who are compassionate and highly skilled. Going to a female doctor is no guarantee that you will be treated better than by a man, and true healing goes beyond gender. But if you can’t talk with your doctor openly, or feel that you are not being treated with respect, you and your doctor may not be a good match. Look for another doctor.
- Women are often overloaded with obligations: work, housekeeping, and caretaking. If something in your routine will interfere with getting the medical treatment your doctor recommends, such as appointments for rehabilitation services, let your doctor know so that you’re not tempted to skip a visit. Together, you can develop a schedule that works.
- Become an authority about your own medical condition and learn how to get accurate information on your own, so you can be an educated advocate for your own health care.
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