Health Topics

4 Reasons Women Need Gender-Specific Care

There’s a lot more that makes women’s bodies different than men’s.

A Physical Exam from a Woman's perspective

If you’re a woman, the last time you had a physical exam, your doctor probably checked your heart, your lungs and your blood pressure. Maybe you had a breast exam or a pelvic exam. But when is the last time you and your doctor evaluated your health from a woman’s perspective?

Women are not just humans with reproductive capacity who are more likely to get breast cancer. There’s a lot more that makes women’s bodies different than men’s. And that makes preventing, diagnosing and treating diseases different, too.

For example:

1. Women are more likely than men to have a heart attack without chest pain. It could be because, unlike men, women tend to have small-vessel heart disease – blockages in smaller as well as larger arteries.

Although many consider heart disease a “man’s disease,” it is the top cause of death in women. Common heart attack symptoms in women include:

  • Unusual fatigue
  • Pain in the abdomen, neck, jaw, shoulder or upper back
  • Shortness of breath
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Dizziness or lightheadedness

In addition, plaque often clogs women’s arteries differently than men’s. Instead of uneven deposits of plaque that are common in the arteries of men with heart disease, some women have plaque that evenly coats their artery walls. That means angioplasty and stents may not always be effective treatments for women’s heart disease. Drug treatments may work better.

2. Women’s smaller, thinner bones make them more vulnerable to osteoporosis. In osteoporosis, bones become fragile and prone to fracture. Fractures of the hip, in particular, are devastating to older women. They can result in loss of independence or, in worst-case scenarios, even death.

Doctors often encourage women – starting in adolescence – to increase their intake of vitamin D and calcium, which work together to strengthen bones.

3. Hormones play a role in many health conditions. During menopause, when the ovaries stop producing as much estrogen, women are at higher risk for some diseases, like osteoporosis and heart disease. Then there are the inconvenient symptoms caused by dwindling hormones themselves:

  • Hot flashes
  • Night sweats
  • Vaginal dryness

Hormone therapy can help replenish estrogen and relieve some of these symptoms as well as reduce a woman’s risk of osteoporosis, colon cancer and more. Although earlier studies found hormone therapy risky, new studies confirm that it is safe, and protects woman’s hearts and bones.

4. Women tend to get a different type of lung cancer than men. In women, lung cancer often develops further from the airways, in the outer regions of the lungs. That’s why many women with lung cancer don’t necessarily have a bad cough. They’re more likely to have fatigue, shortness of breath, or chest and back pain. Treatment can vary by gender, too.

No wonder women’s health has become a medical specialty all its own. No wonder more women are seeking gender-specific care. – such as the Customized Women’s Physicals offered in Cleveland Clinic’s Center for Specialized Women’s Health. These full-day, personalized health evaluations are conducted by female physicians who have devoted their careers to women’s health.

What Women Need to be Checked for Every Year

We recommend that all women have an annual health evaluation that includes:

  • A detailed physical
  • An in-depth history-taking session and discussion
  • Basic laboratory tests
  • A breast exam

As needed, the evaluation also can include a:

  • Mammogram
  • Thyroid (TSH) test
  • Pap test
  • Cholesterol screening and complete lipid profile
  • Pelvic exam
  • Bone density test
  • Breast cancer risk assessment
  • Body fat/nutritional analysis and counseling
  • Full body scan
  • Physical therapy/exercise consult
  • Echo cardiac stress test

A truly comprehensive physical will also provide women with:

  • Targeted screening recommendations to help them reduce or eliminate health risks
  • Referrals to specialists for additional testing, consultation or treatment, if needed
  • Lifestyle recommendations to improve their health and reduce risks of disease
  • Vital wellness information to ensure their ongoing well-being

There are many differences between treating men and women – even when they have the same diseases. But at least one thing is the same: Everyone deserves quality healthcare. Whether you are a wife, mother, sister or daughter, you can benefit from the care of doctors who truly understand you…as a woman.