The five: medical biases against women

From drug trials that only use men to misconceptions about CPR, medicine’s gender inequalities can be matters of life or death

Heart failure

A study last week revealed that women in Australia are less likely than men to receive the recommended medicine for heart failure. In the UK, assumptions that heart failure is a “man’s disease” have also led to unequal care. Over the past 10 years, more than 8,000 British women have died as a result of this gender inequality.

Alzheimer’s disease

Verbal memory tests used to detect Alzheimer’s disease disadvantage women. Research by US scientists in 2016 shows that women in the early stages of Alzheimer’s perform better than men on these tests. However, as this difference is not taken into account, the disease is detected later in women, preventing earlier treatment.

Medical trials

Women have historically been excluded from medical trials, resulting in drugs that are less safe or effective for them. In the US, eight drugs that had unacceptable risks for women were withdrawn by the Food and Drug Administration between 1997 and 2001. Even today, representation in medical trials is still skewed towards men, and not all drug research takes gender into account when analysing results.

CPR dummies

A 2018 study by the University of Pennsylvania showed that women are less likely to receive cardiopulmonary resuscitation from bystanders during cardiac arrest. CPR training only uses “male” dummies. Training with “female” dummies should eliminate fears of causing injury and the misconception that breasts make CPR more challenging.


Women suffering from endometriosis, a gynaecological condition affecting up to one in 10 women of reproductive age, often wait more than seven years for a diagnosis. This is partly because symptoms of severe pain surrounding menstruation are often dismissed by GPs as “normal”. Emma Cox, chief executive of Endometriosis UK, says: “Timely diagnosis could save women from many years of pain, distress and suffering.”

Dani Ellenby

The GuardianTramp

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