Not that Dr. John Gray ought to be believed with his whole Men/Mars Women/Venus schtick (that bugger’s got a new book out, too), but scientists have been finding major differences between men and women beyond the visible. Women, for example, experience pain in greater intensities than men will. However, there was an article in Slate last month that highlighted a major problem with scientific research – even knowing that women will respond differently to treatments, more men are part of studies than women.
According to a 2006 study in the Journal of Women’s Health, women made up less than one-quarter of all patients enrolled in 46 examined clinical trials completed in 2004. And although more women than men die from heart disease each year, a 2008 study published in the Journal of the American College of Cardiology reported that women comprised only 10 percent to 47 percent of each subject pool in 19 heart-related trials.
Of course, this bias isn’t malicious—just a little lazy. Because males don’t have a menstrual cycle, their hormones do not fluctuate much over time, making them a more homogenous study population and ensuring that results are easier to analyze and interpret.
Part of this avoidance of women apparently started on account of fears about birth defects akin to the disaster that was thalidomide and other potential side-effects passing on to unborn kids that might affect them later in life. And yet, it’s argued, pregnant women have to take pills, too. Why aren’t more tests being done to make sure that stuff is safe for them to be taking?
For one thing, they are having babies later in life—when they tend to be on more drugs—and medical breakthroughs have made some pregnancies possible for the very first time, like in women with cystic fibrosis. Baylis and Faden argue that there should be trials designed to test drugs in pregnant women who are going to be taking them no matter what. “Then you’ve got structures in place to collect data, you’ve got structures in place to look for unanticipated or unwanted adverse events,” Baylis says.
Something to think about next time you’re needing a prescription, I suppose.