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Women and Men: 10 Differences that Make a Difference

When it comes to health, there are many crucial differences between men and women. Yet many women do not know that they react differently to some medications, are more vulnerable to some diseases, and may have different symptoms. SWHR brought attention to sex differences in initiating the groundbreaking 2001 Institute of Medicine report, Exploring the Biological Contribution to Human Health: Does Sex Matter? The report underscored the need to better understand the importance of sex differences and translate that knowledge into improved medical practice and therapies. Following are some quick but vital facts about sex differences in health care that you probably did not know.

Heart Disease
Heart Disease
Heart disease kills 500,000 American women each year – over 50,000 more women than men – and strikes women, on average, 10 years later than men. Women are more likely than men to have a second heart attack within a year of the first one.

Depression
Women are two-to-three times more likely than men to suffer from depression. Women are particularly vulnerable to depression and other mood disorders during hormonal transitions in the lifespan (puberty, pregnancy, menopause).
Osteoporosis Knee Osteoporosis
Women comprise 80 percent of the population suffering from osteoporosis. Osteoporosis-related fractures are a main cause of disability and mortality in the United States.

Smoking
Smoking-related diseases kill more than 140,000 American women annually. Smoking has a more negative effect on cardiovascular health in women than men. Women are also less successful quitting smoking and have more severe withdrawal symptoms.

Autoimmune Disease
Three out of four people suffering from autoimmune diseases, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus, are women. Autoimmune diseases are in the top 10 leading causes of deaths (age 65 and younger) and are the fourth largest cause of disability among US women.

STIs/HIV
Women are two times more likely than men to contract a sexually transmitted infection. HIV is among the top 10 leading causes of death for all US women aged 25-54 and is the number 1 leading cause of death for African American women aged 25-34.
Brain
Stroke
Each year, approximately 40,000 more women than men suffer from a stroke. This is related to women’s greater life expectancy and the higher rates of stroke in the oldest age groups.

Alcohol
About 1.6 million alcoholics in the US are women, who are the fastest growing segment of the alcohol abusing population. Women produce less of the stomach enzyme that breaks down ethanol; therefore, after consuming the same amount of alcohol, women have higher blood alcohol content than men, even after adjusting for size.
Pills
Drug Addiction
Women are more likely to experience more severe withdrawal symptoms than men when trying to quit an addictive substance, and generally find it more difficult to quit than men do.

Pain
Many chronic pain conditions are more common in women, such as rheumatoid arthritis, fibromyalgia, migraine, and osteoarthritis (after age 45). Women generally show greater sensitivity to pain than men do.

To learn more read our fact sheets.

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Page Updated: March 2010

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