Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Gender and medicine

Mrs. Z. N. had been having a very difficult year. She had lost her son and was feeling lonely and very anxious. One Saturday afternoon, she became extremely short of breath and tired.

She was having severe chest pains to the point she thought she was having a heart attack. Her family took her to the hospital. After many tests, she was diagnosed with stress cardiomyopathy, or broken heart syndrome.

Broken heart syndrome has been increasingly recognized in the U.S. and the rest of the world as a condition affecting mostly women. Patients present with symptoms of a heart attack, in spite of having normal coronary arteries. This condition is usually brought on by intense physical or emotional stress. It is possible that a sudden surge in adrenaline causes spasm in the smallest blood vessels supplying the heart. However, most patients will recover completely if given appropriate medical care.

Heart disease is only one of many conditions that affect women differently than men. Other diseases such as osteoporosis, irritable bowel syndrome and depression afflict more women than men. Women can also present unique symptoms and respond to treatment differently. And frequently medications affect women differently, something we’re learning more about each day.

During the last two decades, a better understanding of gender specific medicine has emerged. I am very excited to be part of a new collaboration between Texas Health Resources and the Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health. This project will include community events, medical education, and research geared to better understand women’s health and gender differences in medicine. We hope to provide women with the information they need to take better care of their health. With women making most of the medical decisions for their families, we hope this program will help not only women, but their families as well.

As a physician my goal is always to provide the highest level of care to my patients and as a woman I am so pleased to be part of an initiative that will help other women and their families. In the coming months I’ll periodically address other aspects of gender differences in medicine on this blog, but in the meantime if you have questions please leave me a comment here. I’ll try to work the topics into future posts. I look forward to a dialogue about how we as women can all improve our health.

If you’re curious about attending a free seminar on women’s health, a full listing is available at www.texashealth.org/advances.

Dr. Arlene Betancourt
Internist and physician champion for the Texas Health Resources and Laura W. Bush Institute for Women's Health collaboration

Physicians on the medical staff are not employees or agents of Texas Health Resources.

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