The FDA has released new data about which gender more commonly suffers which side effects from prescription drugs, and the results are eye-opening, to say the least.
As you can see from the chart, women show a higher incidence of side effects in almost every single category — in the case of several of them, women are actually reporting over double the rates of men. In fact, men outstrip women in only two side effect categories: myocardial infarctions (the technical term for heart attacks) and death (which was the highest-incidence side effect for men) — and in the case of death, men didn't outstrip women by much.
So does this mean drugs are effecting women in ways they're not affecting men? Not quite. It's definitely theoretically possible that women are reacting to certain drugs differently (fat solubility in women vs. men could theoretically be having an influence, although one would think drug companies/doctors would account for that in the first place), but the gap is way too wide for that to explain it on its own. There are a couple of other factors likely affecting the reporting, though, that might ultimately balance the sheet. There's a question on how many men vs. women are actually on prescription drugs nationwide — while exact numbers are difficult to pin down, women are DEFINITELY prescribed anti-depressants and other drugs related to mental health way more than men, and are in general prescribed more potentially abusable drugs. Moreover, half of the effects from women were self-reported, whereas over 60% of reported incidences in men were reported by care providers, drug manufacturers, and lawyers — which means that a lot of the less extreme symptoms are almost certainly underreported. This also explains why heart attacks and death don't fit the pattern; you can't exactly cowboy up and pretend either of those things didn't happen. As Dr. Michael Carome, director of the health research group at Public Citizen, says:
"Much of this is voluntary, so there's likely very significant under reporting," Carome said. "There's likely many more adverse events occurring than you get from this database."
What this likely paints a picture of, then, is not that drugs are inherently having a different effect on women than men, but that patriarchal social norms affect how we regard our health. Men are taught to be beacons of rugged toughness — it's where idiotic phrases like "man up" come from. When it comes to symptoms like nausea, malaise, general pain, dizziness, fatigue, headache, and others, men are taught not to complain nearly as much, leading to them being less likely to complain even to their doctors. At the same time, health care providers themselves are slower to prescribe certain types of drugs to men than they are to women, leading to less instances of men suffering from side effects.
See? It doesn't just hurt women; patriarchy kicks both genders in the ass.
ETA: Numerous commenters have pointed out that up until recently, drugs have only been tested on male lab rats. That's an excellent point I was not aware of, and one that I'm sure is having some effect on these numbers. I still maintain that the issue is a multi-faceted one, though — there's not one simple explanation for the numbers discrepancy.
Image via jordache/Shutterstock.