All women who take medication need to know this 96



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Ever had side effects from your medication that you weren’t told about? There’s a very good reason for it, and every woman who takes pharmaceutical drugs needs to know.

Emergency medicine doctor Alyson McGregor recently gave a TED talk on why medicine often has dangerous side effects on women, and it has started a new conversation about the trust we put in doctors and science.

We believe medications we’re prescribed will work and help us but, as Dr McGregor reveals, medical science has only been based on half the population for the last 100 years. That’s right – popular medications that many of us take have only ever been lab tested on men.

A recent Government Accountability study revealed that 80 percent of the drugs withdrawn from the market are due to side effects on women. So let’s think about that for a minute. Why are we discovering side effects on women only after a drug has been released to the market? Do you know that it takes years for a drug to go from an idea to being tested on cells in a laboratory, to animal studies, to then clinical trials on humans, finally to go through a regulatory approval process, to be available for your doctor to prescribe to you?… What’s happening?”, Dr McGregor asked.

She explains that the cells used in the lab are male cells, as are the animals. She gives the example of popular sleeping pill Ambien.

It was released on the market over 20 years ago, and since then, hundreds of millions of prescriptions have been written, primarily to women, because women suffer more sleep disorders than men.

But in the last year, the FDA recommended cutting women’s dosage as women metabolise the drug at a slower rate than men, said Dr McGregor, causing them to wake up in the morning with more of the active drug in their system.

This can mean if you take this medicine and are a woman, you can be drowsy the next day – a huge risk if you are getting behind the wheel of the car.

It makes you wonder: how many other things need to be analysed by gender? What else are we missing?

Dr McGregor explains that one of the historical reasons women don’t participate in medical research was due to post-WWII where guidelines protected women of childbearing age from entering into any medical research studies. There was the fear of something happened to the foetus during the study and who would be liable. On top of that, men have less fluctuations of hormones and present clean data. 

And unfortunately for women, at the time there was a general assumption that men and women were alike in every way (except genitalia), so therefore it was decided: medical research was performed on men, and the results were later applied to women.

Another interesting area of medicine is cardiovascular health and the huge difference in male and female heart attacks. “Heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women, but more women die within the first year of having a heart attack than men. Men will complain of crushing chest pain — an elephant is sitting on their chest. And we call this typical. Women have chest pain, too. But more women than men will complain of “just not feeling right,” “can’t seem to get enough air in,” “just so tired lately.” And for some reason we call this atypical”, she said. 

It is also not often realised that while you can give aspirin to healthy men to help prevent them from having a heart attack, if you give aspirin to a healthy woman, it’s actually harmful.

Dr McGregor believes “the first step towards change is awareness. This is not just about improving medical care for women. This is about personalised, individualised health care for everyone. This awareness has the power to transform medical care for men and women. And from now on, I want you to ask your doctors whether the treatments you are receiving are specific to your sex and gender”.

Tell us, did this shock you? Have you had strange side effects to some medications you’ve taken?

Starts at 60 Writers

The Starts at 60 writers team seek out interesting topics and write them especially for you.

  1. Yes it does surprise me I would have thought there would have been some women in the trials at the very least.

    1 REPLY
    • Apparently our bodies are ‘too complex’ for big Pharma. I was reading about a pregnancy drug that was tested on men only. Beggers belief doesn’t it?

  2. Yes this did shock me.I’ m on blood pressure, cholesterol, anti reflux plus low dose aspirin, how do I know if I’m getting side effects? Like a cough? Constant tiredness? Not sleeping well? Constant runny nose? The doctors don’t have the answer just give more or different pryscriptions!

    1 REPLY
    • I’m in the same boat. I was prescribed Lyrica twice a day and suffered awful dizzy spells. Since I dropped back to once a day I feel do much better. I think the doses prescribed are often too high for women. I had side effects from cholesterol meds too.

  3. The list of medications that I have serious reactions to is long. Sometimes my reactions aren’t even listed on the side effects. Whenever my doc and I have to find something I can take, she says “here we go again, on the never ending hunt”! It’s a serious worry.

    “if you give aspirin to a healthy woman, it’s actually harmful..” That’s a very worrying statement as so many women take aspirin to ward off heart attacks. Whilst I don’t take it, I’d like to see some scientific proof of that claim.

    10 REPLY
    • I like to see evidence of that statement too Judy.

    • Me too Judy. My nurse friend takes aspirin every day and told me to take it but I haven’t so far so this is very interesting!

    • I had a severe bleed from taking Aspirin even though it was the red one with the Enteric coating,which I was taking as a preventative for stroke and heart attack.It has caused me ongoing bowel trouble now for years. I always took it with food anyway,but no warning, in those days it was considered perfectly safe. Since then there have been lots of warnings about possible bleeds,so obviously the scientific data is there somewhere.

    • This article is a bit scare-mongering. It’s one person’s opinion and contains a few sweeping statements, without any scientific reports or results being cited. I’m concerned that the writers suggest we should question our doctors all the time. If you can’t trust your doctor, who can you trust? I have complete faith in my doctor and she’s always straight up front with me as we hunt for medications I can cope with. As with anything that goes into our bodies, it’s “horses for courses”! What works for one, may not work for another but that doesn’t mean everything should be put in the bin! I don’t put too much faith in this article.

    • Every one should be proactive with their health, and definitely question all advice and, procedures and prescriptions the doctor gives you. Doctors make lots of mistakes. I worked in pharmacy, and the pharmacists were often having to call up various doctors and query the suitability of some prescriptions that our customers were presenting to be filled, it’s common practice in pharmacy. In a 10 – 15 minute consultation with a doctor they don’t have time to know everything about you and your state of health, that’s why it is very important to go to the same pharmacy to have your prescriptions filled. Their computer instantly throughs up a warning if your medications are going to react with one an other.

    • I always see the same doctor, Dawn – have for years – and always have a half hour consultation. But I understand what you say about having chemists on side.

    • I’ve taken low dose aspirin for years as a stroke/heart attack help prevention. I’ve no complaints and have been diagnosed with a heart problem. Common with age I’m told. I enjoy every day, and I agree each of us needs to be responsible in actively checking up on health issues. I did find when I first took blood pressure tablets that the fillers used in the medicine had a huge bearing on headaches. So I always refuse generic brands, I’m able to pay the price so I’m lucky there.

    • 10 to 15 minutes with your doctor sounds terrific . Mine is a clock watcher lucky to get 5 minutes . Saying he is very good !

  4. Reaction too. Can be the fillers in the tablet there is a difference between the original and the generic brand and can make you very sick if you have food allergies as I’ve found with my blood pressure medication. After months of trouble now only get the original and it is under control

    5 REPLY
    • Rosalie my doctor told me years ago to make sure I only buy the original brand he prescribes for me because all though the generic brands have the main ingredient in them, there is a difference with other things like fillers.

    • So true! I had terrible heart burn and indigestion from a medication I had taken previously with no side effects,but this was the generic brand,and the chemist put it in terms of different “bio availability” of the generic they pedal. Since then,I always refuse the generic.

    • Wow I’m so glad to see someone else says generic are different….in their makeup…..I never ever use generic…..

  5. Had 2 TIA’s from medication that I was told I had to have. I check for side effects on all medication now and have refused cholesterol medication completely after suffering acute to severe side effects “safe injections” have caused horrific side effects to me e.g, Hep B injection. I was in the 1% of the population that should not have it.

    4 REPLY
    • Interesting to see your name,my husband is Ray Waterson,son of Roy~~Royal Francis Waterson~~wondering if there is any connection as it’s not a very common surname.

    • As a matter of curiosity I just looked it up and apparently still recommended from birth. The article I read was from April of this year.

  6. I think you need more than one person saying aspirin is harmful. You could cause a LOT of damage with that irresponsible statement. Where is your peer backed research?

  7. Yes, I have lost most of my body hair including eyebrows from a Blood Pressure medication and my hair on my head has thinned considerably. Never to regrow either, had my eyebrows tattooed twice but it is very expensive and only lasts 12-18 months!

    1 REPLY
    • Or could be thyroid problem.I can’t take a lot of blood pressure pills,have an under active thyroid.Have to take thyroxine and vitamins, magnesium,fish oil ,Vit D. Vit B.Still here and nearly 80.

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