Misdiagnosis of illnesses has been one of the major challenges faced in the medical field. However, there is another problem that lurks behind the corners, rarely getting much notice and yet has the potential to cause serious damage to your body or even death. Even when a problem is correctly diagnosed and the correct drugs prescribed, many people assume that the prescribed dose is correct. However, it’s possible that the standard dose may not be standard for you.
It has been known for a while that the male and female bodies react differently to certain drugs. What has been less obvious is just how big a problem this is.
Women are underrepresented in many clinical trials and this is one of the reasons why certain side effects that are more likely to occur in women are never realised until a drug has been approved. In the U.S., until the around the 90s, women could not participate in certain clinical trials despite making up the majority of the population.
Even in the present day, women are still intentionally excluded from clinical trials. The main reason behind this is the hormonal fluctuation that is brought on by the menstrual cycle. Many of the women approved for drug trials are usually those in the early follicular stages of the cycle.
The result of this discrimination is that if the drugs are approved, they are usually approved with very little information on how a change in hormone levels in women can alter the effects of these drugs. With studies suggesting that women are twice as likely to experience an adverse reaction from taking a drug, this is extremely worrying. Considering that most of the drugs that get withdrawn from the market are withdrawn due to adverse effects in women, this is an issue that cannot be ignored.
What Risks are You Facing?
Unfortunately, even with the drugs that don’t get withdrawn from the market, there are many that affect men and women differently. People who are unaware of how much risk they could be facing take some of these drugs regularly, even when taking what is considered the standard dose of a drug. The risk in commonly taken prescription drugs include:
Opioid painkillers are much more effective in women. This is thought to be due to the presence of oestrogen. The downside is that women are also much more likely to get addicted to prescription painkillers, even though the reason for this is still unclear. The possibility of relapsing is also higher in women especially when they are in the middle of their menstrual cycle.
Studies have shown that different types of antidepressants have different levels of effectiveness in women and men. There are also antidepressants which are more potent for women due to lower binding capacity in the blood. Tricyclic antidepressants in particular have been shown to be capable of overflowing into the bloodstream resulting in much more acute side effects. SSRI antidepressants could also be absorbed more quickly into the bloodstream due to the reduced acidity of women’s stomachs and this could make them more toxic.
- Sleeping Pills
Sleeping pills are usually psychotropic drugs and these are mostly metabolized in the liver. The male liver breaks down sleeping pills such as Ambien much faster. This means that concentration of the sleeping pills in women is likely to be higher the following day compared to men. Therefore, women who take pills could end up not being as alert as they should be at work or while operating heavy machinery.
- Anxiety medication
The reduced acidity in women’s stomachs means that these medications are absorbed faster and thus women will feel the effects strongly. Even at the standard dose, the risk of these drugs being toxic to women is significant. Additionally, since men’s kidney’s filter out the drugs faster, women may have to wait longer between doses.
There have been many calls for women to be represented better at clinical trials, as well as calls for drug manufacturers to stop intentionally excluding women from drug trials. The risk posed to women by biased drug testing is real and even Addiction Helper; Daniel Gerrard has noted that there are more women who have become addicted to opiates after starting out on prescription pain killers.
The solution to this problem can only be the design of policies that will require drug companies to not only include women in their trials, but also make a point to study the effects of the drugs on women in different stages of their menstrual cycle. This is the only way of ensuring that those who are more likely to use certain drugs will not be harmed.