From depression to a heart attack, these serious conditions have distinct signs depending on your sex
Muscle power, hormone levels, body parts below the belt—at the risk of sounding like captain obvious, women and men are biologically very different. What's surprising is that the sexes experience lots of conditions and symptoms in distinct ways as well. The tricky thing about that is, it can mean that doctors don’t correctly diagnose us or may try treatment protocols that don’t work as well for women. “Most of the original descriptions of diseases and studies of their treatments were done by male physicians on mostly male patients,” says Samuel Altstein, D.O., medical director of the Beth Israel Medical Group in New York. Even now, women are still often left out of research studies because scientists fear female hormones will skew results, an explanation that is “overly simplistic and probably sexist,” says Altstein. The reasons certain conditions present themselves in distinct ways isn’t well understood. But you should know what the distinct symptoms of common conditions are.
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The main signs of depression are persistent sadness or a down mood. Men are more likely to experience agression and irritation. Women tend to report anxiety, physical pain, a surge in appetite or weight gain, fatigue, and oversleeping. Not only that, but women are about twice as likely to be diagnosed with depression—partly because women deal with more hormone-influenced conditions like postpartum depression. They also experience greater work stress and social pressures, says Altstein.
It depends on the specific infection, but generally, symptoms include a funky discharge and/or a sore, growth, burning sensation, or pain in the genital area. Because guys can actually see their goods, they're more likely to notice a herpes or syphilis sore on the penis while a woman wouldn’t be able to see either of thee as easily inside her vagina. The differences extend beyond whether you can get a good look at your goods or not too. Women often mistake STD symptoms such as discharge, burning, or itching with something less worrisome, like a yeast infection. Also, overall, women are more vulnerable to STDs in general, and they do more damage, often by impairing fertility if left untreated. Totally unfair, but the lining of the vagina is thinner than the skin on a penis, so it’s easier for microbes to set up shop.
Guys generally experience crushing chest pain, whereas women may not sense any chest pressure at all. The tipoffs in women tend to be subtler: shortness of breath, abdominal pain, dizziness, nausea, fatigue, and insomnia. No wonder heart disease is the leading cause of death for women in the U.S., and women are more likely to kick the bucket after suffering one than men are.
Strokes afflict more women than men each year. And while men and women share some main symptoms (weakness on one side of the body, confusion, and trouble talking), women report more under-the-radar signs, such as fainting, breathing issues, pain, and seizures. “Also, women are already more prone to suffering from migraines than men, and it’s known that migraines increases your risk of stroke,” says Dr. Altstein.
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There’s a rumor out there claiming that women have a higher tolerance for pain. Trouble is, it doesn’t square with the science. (If you’ve given birth, you’re probably ready to protest this news—sorry!) Researchers from Stanford University found that for the same condition, such as arthritis or back pain, women rate their pain about 20 percent higher than men. The reason why remains a mystery. Also unexplained: Why women are way more likely to come down with chronic pain and autoimmune conditions that often cause pain, such as multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and fibromyalgia.