Current health guidelines are based on studies in men – lacking sex-specific research for issues like obesity, hypertension, and diabetes in women
Sex-specific research continues to be absent from health guidelines for treating issues, such as cardiovascular disease, for women – as most guidelines are based on clinical trials which were conducted by men and used male participants.
Calling for new healthcare guidelines for treating obesity, hypertension, and diabetes in women, researchers found that there are still no sex-specific research guidelines for treating or preventing these health conditions.
Not only were women excluded from most clinical trials regarding common diseases and conditions, but also up until the early 1990s, the limited research conducted on women’s health focused primarily on diseases affecting fertility and reproduction.
This is dangerous and negatively impacts women, as it can potentially limit the medical care available to women and could leave room for misdiagnosis or error.
Researching women’s health and sex differences can change outcomes
Published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology, researchers emphasise that health differences between men and women go well beyond only reproductive health, and sex-specific research is necessary to understand how different diseases can generate in women.
For instance, a lack of sex-specific research conducted on women can be seen with the prevalence of hypertension. While it is higher in men than in women prior to the age of 60 – following menopause, hypertension actually increases in women, which can lead to the number one killer of women in the US – cardiovascular disease.
Non-Hispanic Black men and women experience higher rates of hypertension than non-Hispanic White and Hispanic populations, so the research gap can also affect race as well as gender.
Dr Judy Regensteiner said: “We need to understand how clinical care guidelines can be appropriately targeted to women as well as men in order to accurately prevent, assess and treat cardiovascular disease in both sexes. We are currently using the same guidelines for both men and women.
“However, we do not have the evidence we need to know if this is justified in all disease states.”
An increased risk of cardiovascular disease in women
Another example can be seen with obesity. Though for the first time, obesity rates in men were at the same level as women, the adipose distribution in men and women frequently differs and has physiological implications.
The lack of sex-specific research can increase a cardiometabolic risk in postmenopausal women if not registered soon enough.
Additionally, with diabetes, any exposure to diabetes no matter how short, including gestational diabetes, can increase the risk of developing cardiovascular disease in women. This increased risk of cardiovascular disease in women with diabetes is mostly found even before menopause.
Dr Jane Reusch further said: “Women develop diabetes with a different constellation of risk factors than men and it is crucial to understand these differences when making treatment decisions.”
Overall, it is vital for researchers to develop new sex-specific research guidelines on obesity, hypertension, and diabetes for women and people of different races. The risk factors, manifestations and time of onset are frequently different for men and women, potentially requiring guidelines that differ by sex.
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