A Danish study published back in February of this year in the journal Nature Communications, analyzed nearly 7 million hospital patients for more than 20 years revealing that on average, women get diagnosed about four years later than men in relation to several diseases.
This data came as a surprise to even the lead author, Soran Bronak, who fears, because men tend to reach out to medical professionals fairly late as it is, the disparity in diagnosis times might be even steeper than we realize. The study reports, “The results point towards the need for an increased focus on sex-stratified medicine to elucidate the origins of the socio-economic and ethological differences.”
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It grimly notes that literature published on the subject in the past (albeit a little more broadly) corroborates its observations for cancer, autoimmune diseases and musculoskeletal disorders alike.
Biases in diagnosis and treatment
The study examined 770 different diseases to cement its research.
Although the results point pretty cleanly to one conclusion, the data did feature a curious exception in its analyst of osteoporosis. The common condition was discovered to be detected in women much earlier than in men.
Additionally, late discovery of some illnesses seemed to owe themselves to inherent differences in manifestations. ADHD for instance tends to be expressed more mildly in girls than in boys, leading to later diagnosis. Boys that suffer from the disorder are commonly diagnosed around the age of 14, compared to women, who are commonly diagnosed as late as 20.
When it comes to cancer, however, the researchers found that women were typically diagnosed about 2.5 years later than men. For metabolic diseases like diabetes for example, the difference surged by two years (4.5).
Although many experts have speculated on factors that might illuminate a definitive explanation, the study could not delineate any such reasonings.
As Bronak told Healthline, “The study does not provide a comprehensive explanation for why we see these differences, and how the reasons, in particular, divide up between germ-line genetics, environmental exposures, and modifiable lifestyle.”
Differences in our healthcare system make it nearly impossible to conduct a study as extensive as the one conducted on the Danish population, though Nicole Woitowich Ph.D. assumes the data would be similar in a hypothetical U.S. study and perhaps even more sobering for “women of color.”
Woitowich declares that medical differences between and women are more complicated than just their basic biology. She states, “Women and men experience many diseases and disorders differently. Both sex and gender can have a significant impact on our health and well-being. This is still an issue that is often overlooked, even within medical education and training.”
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