Differences between men and women extend beyond the glaring to the surprising and medically relevant. A growing field of research is analyzing exactly how those differences affect health and what physicians can do about it.
Take atrial fibrillation, an rhythmic abnormality of the heart, for example. Women with atrial fibrillation are more likely than men to suffer a stroke, one of the more serious consequences of the condition, Mintu Turakhia, MD, told attendees of this week's Sex Differences in Cardiovascular Health and Disease Conference at Stanford.
In addition, those women are also less likely to receive the latest drugs that could ward off potential strokes, Turakhia said, a finding that highlights the complicated interplay between biological sex differences and societal perceptions of gender differences.
Men and women have different responses to congestive heart failure as well, Phillip Yang, MD, associate professor of medicine, told attendees. Female survivors of heart attacks have a greater risk of death or another heart attack, he said.
His research group is capitalizing on intriguing sex differences that develop quite early: the differences between male and female embryonic stem cells. Interestingly, female stem cells may be more successful at restoring damaged heart tissue than male cells, Yang said.
Sex hormones such as estrogen and testosterone also play a role in viral myocarditis, a dangerous infection of heart tissue that can lead to death in people under 40, according to Sean Wu, MD, PhD, assistant professor of medicine. The infection is more common in men, and his research suggests that estrogen may have a protective effect against the infection.
Researchers are increasingly realizing the importance of incorporating consideration of sex differences, said Marcia Stefanick, PhD, co-director of the Center for Women and Sex Differences in Medicine and a professor of medicine and of obstetrics and gynecology: "It really is a very hot topic."
Previously: Even moderate exercise appears to provide heart-health benefits to middle-aged women, Exploring sex differences in the brain and X marks the spot, and so does Y: Brain differences, missing or extra sex chromosomes and gene dosage
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