For many years, doctors have applied a broad diagnostic brush when it comes to gender and disease, despite the biological differences between men and women. Modern medicine is finally catching up to the idea that different sexes respond differently under certain conditions, and that those differences affect disease manifestation, progression, and prognosis. Understanding the various paths these conditions take means faster identification and more succinct treatment options that will improve survival rates.
There are a few physical and psychological differences between men and women when it comes to hair loss. General hair loss is more noticeable in men because it tends to be more obvious and starts from the hairline. Women tend to experience diffuse (more evenly distributed) hair-thinning at the crown, instead of complete baldness. Men who lose their hair in their 20s and 30s may develop anxiety or other symptoms as a result. However, the social stigma around this loss is arguably less than for women; female pattern balding can have a significant psychological impact due to the emphasis society places on hair being the prime indicator of femininity and beauty in women. There are also more products marketed to men than women to address this issue.
High blood pressure (hypertension) is a silent killer with significant gender disparities. Men under 50 have higher risks of developing hypertension and of having hypertension-related cardiovascular disease than women in the same age group. However, after menopause, the risk of hypertension in women increases. Doctors originally thought this was solely due to hormonal changes, but further investigations suggest that the interaction between the renin-angiotensin system, which handles blood pressure regulation, and the reproduction-related androgen hormone may contribute to the uptick in blood pressure.
Urinary tract infections or UTIs are common in sexually active women; their shorter urethra means bacteria can enter a woman's bladder more easily than a man's. The risk increases if the male urethra already has the bacteria and the couple uses certain birth control measures, such as spermicide. Postmenopausal women are more vulnerable to recurring UTIs due to the natural decline of estrogen, especially if they have a history of infections. This increases their chances of kidney damage and other complications.
While studies show that men have a higher prevalence of alcoholism, women are more affected by alcohol use. Data suggests that when a woman's drinking level approaches the male average, their bodies slow alcohol metabolism, making them more sensitive to the effects. As a result of this and other sex-related factors, women categorized as heavy drinkers are vulnerable to alcohol-related hepatic, cardiovascular, and neurological damage years earlier than men.
Osteoporosis can lead to a host of complications, including repeated fractures, chronic pain, disability, and infections. It is more common in postmenopausal women, but research is investigating related complications in men. While women tend to lose bone mass faster after menopause, men who smoke are more likely to lose hip bone mass. Men also tend to lose more endosteal bone than women. Serious complications can result from the loss of this thin layer on the bone's inner surface, which aids in growth and repair.
Doctors are discovering that when it comes to autoimmune diseases, there are differences in the course of the disease and long-term prognosis in each sex. While many studies indicate that women have greater disability and experience more severe symptoms than men, studies suggest that men with rheumatoid arthritis may have higher mortality rates due to increased atherosclerosis risk.
Many are familiar with the typical clutched-heart depiction of a heart attack, but this is not the sign for which women should be on the lookout. On average, women experience heart attacks seven years later than men, whose first cardiac event typically manifests in their mid-sixties. Women may also experience less common symptoms such as nausea, dizziness, arm or back pain, and fatigue, which are easy to attribute to a general illness or other less serious issue.
For many people on vacation, getting a bit of sun is a sign of time well-spent. However, 20 percent of Americans will have some form of skin cancer by the time they hit their seventies, and more than five sunburns throughout one's life radically increases that risk. More than twice as many men as women will die from melanoma, and one of the reasons is male-pattern baldness. One study shows that severe vertex baldness leads to a higher incidence of melanoma and carcinoma development in the scalp, head, and neck.
Before the 1980s, doctors considered strokes a primarily male disease, but data shows that 20 percent of women over 55, compared to nearly 17 percent of men, will have a stroke. While both sexes seem to experience the same symptoms, after an acute stroke, women face significantly higher rates of disability that requires institutionalization for three to six months.
It is easy to forget that 1 in 1,000 men will develop breast cancer because the disease is commonly associated with women. Data shows that about 10 percent of men with the disease had a mutation of the BRCA2 gene that can suppress tumors. Breast cancer in men can occur at a younger age and is often detected later than average, during the higher stages, which makes spread more likely and treatment more difficult.
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