Focusing on women’s health does not mean ignoring men’s health, nor does it mean taking resources away from men’s health. It’s about acknowledging that women and men are different. While that may seem obvious, past medical research often worked on the assumption that, with the exceptions of breast cancer, obstetrics and gynecology, women are just like men. It was not unusual for medical studies and drug trials to exclude women, even though women were affected by the condition being studied or would be prescribed the drugs that were being tested.
One example is the American Heart Association’s 2007 guidelines for preventing cardiovascular disease in women. These guidelines were, of course, based on high-quality research including 156 randomized clinical trials. However, in 2010 Duke University researchers looked more closely at the research used to establish the guidelines. The Duke researchers found that less than one-third of all of the study participants in all of the included trials were women, even though women account for about half of heart disease patients. A few of the trials – about 13 percent – didn’t include any women. Of the trials that included both men and women, only 31 percent provided results that were specific to women and men.
That means that much of the data used to develop guidelines for women were not specific to women. The review authors concluded that in order to provide evidence-based recommendations specifically for women, more effort is needed to ensure that women are adequately represented in clinical trials.
That’s a health gap.