John Mahaffey, a famous Irish wit of the 19th century, was once asked by an advocate of women’s equality what the difference was between men and women. He replied, “I can’t conceive.” Women and men share a great deal. They are of the same species, with the same basic physical configuration. They all have a mother and a father. They tend to have similar, though not statistically identical, lifespans. They learn in much the same way, and they have similar, though again not identical, needs regarding nutrition. Each has 23 pairs of chromosomes. These similarities aid them in numerous ways, not the least of which is their ability to come together in pairs and procreate, thus carrying the human race forward. Yet men and women are different. We mentioned those 23 pairs of chromosomes. Men and women share 22 of those pairs, which accounts for all the similarities. Yet it’s in that last pair, the 23rd,that the difference lies. Those are the sex chromosomes. Women have two that are shaped like the letter X. Men have one X, but they also have a Y. And that makes it all possible. That is the sufficient difference that makes the man capable of fathering and the woman capable of mothering. Otherwise, they would not be able to reproduce and humanity would have lasted only a single generation. As the French would say, “Vive la différence!” Yet, the differences do, well, make a difference, most especially when it comes to physical health and mental health, drug addiction and treatment, and the medical and psychotherapeutic requirements to maintain optimum health on all levels.
What exactly are the health care issues specific to the female sex? How does their care differ from the health care needs of men?
What Makes Women Unique?
Many of the differences have to do with the “mothering” capability mentioned above and the “conceiving” ability that Mahaffey referred to. After all, women menstruate, they have babies and nurse them, and they go through menopause. All these things make up women’s differences and have implications for their health. But there is more than just the genitalia that creates the health care differences between men and women. Hormones play a great part as well. While this may be connected to the function of the uterus, ovaries, and the biological process associated with conception, it can affect every aspect of a woman’s ability to function in relationships with others, with herself, and on a day-to-day basis at work and at home.
Women are much more likely to suffer from clinical depression than men, as much as two or three times more likely, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). The hormonal imbalances attending adolescence, childbearing, and menopause make women especially prone to various mood disorders, a risk factor that can be compounded by other issues, including a genetic or family predisposition and stress.The three types of depression that can afflict women include:
- Minor depression: the least severe type of depression; may be characterized by low level symptoms or passing symptoms that come and go
- Dysthymic disorder: also known as dysthymia, a moderate form of depression characterized by symptoms of depression that last more than two years
- Major depression: the most severe form of depression; intrudes on the woman’s ability to function at home or at work, to sleep, to eat and to enjoy herself
Sexually Transmitted Diseases
Every year, about 425,000 women in America suffer a stroke; that’s 55,000 more than men.
The reason for the imbalance mostly has to do with the greater life expectancy of women, as strokes tends to be a disease of the elderly. Men and women share some of the same symptoms of a stroke, such as sudden unexplained headaches, sudden confusion or eye trouble, and attacks of numbness, especially those localized to one side of the body.
Yet women having strokes tend to exhibit symptoms not usually found in men, including sudden onsets of the following:
- Face and limb pain
- Shortness of breath
- General weakness
- Chest pain
- Heart palpitations
Apoplectic women may not only exhibit more symptoms than men, but they also have additional risk factors. Whereas both men and women share risk factors, such as family history, hypertension, elevated cholesterol, obesity, and a sedentary lifestyle, women have the following risk factors specific to them:
- Use of oral contraceptives
- Use of hormone replacement therapy
- Combination of a thick waist and a high triglyceride level (Women after menopause who have a waist larger than 35.2 inches and a triglyceride, or blood fat, level greater than 128 mg per liter may have five times the level of risk for stroke than other women.)
- Migraine suffering (Though men do get migraines, women are three times more likely to be afflicted, and those who do are three to six times more likely to suffer stroke than women without migraines.)
On average, more men drink than women. Female alcoholics, however, are the fastest-growing portion of the alcohol-abusing population. Around 1.6 million alcoholics in America are women, and women are adversely affected by drinking at least as much as or more than men. For example, female alcoholics die at rates 50 to 100 percent higher than male alcoholics. These deaths include those caused by alcohol-related factors, such as suicides, automobile and other accidents, cirrhosis, stroke, and heart disease. Also, it is a scientific fact that, pound for pound, women cannot tolerate alcohol as well as men. Their bodies produce lesser amounts of the enzyme that breaks down alcohol in the stomach. For that reason, a woman with the same weight of a man and drinking the same amount of alcohol will have a higher blood alcohol content than the man. While becoming inebriated raises the likelihood of being a victim of an accident or a physical assault, the long-term damage of heavy drinking can be even worse for women.
Consider the following possible long-term effects:
- Liver disease. Women have a greater likelihood of developing hepatitis and cirrhosis than men do.
- Mental impairment. Alcoholism often results in a reduction in brain size. Researchers have found that women are more susceptible to alcohol-induced brain damage than men.
- Cancer. Breast cancer is much more common in women than men, and studies suggest that heavy drinking raises its risk.
- Heart disease. Women have been shown to be at greater risk than men of alcohol-related cardiovascular disease, even those who drink at lower levels.
- Fetal alcohol syndrome (FAS). With alcohol use, as with everything else, those who are or might become pregnant need to consider the effects of drinking not only on themselves but also on their fetuses and babies. The effects on the child of a pregnant woman’s heavy drinking are extreme and often permanent. While studies suggest that light to moderate drinking may not increase the likelihood of FAS, the best advice to expectant mothers is to avoid alcohol.
Many of the risks to women and their offspring caused by heavy drinking also apply to drug use. Expectant women in particular should be very careful regarding the drugs they take, even those prescribed by physicians. Women are more likely to be prescribed drugs that are subject to abuse, such as anti-anxiety medication and narcotics.
Historically, many women have also had a harder time asking for help than their male counterparts because of the stigma against alcoholics. Additionally, they are also more likely to feel that their children, elderly family members, or family members with special needs require their care and will fare poorly if they leave to go to treatment.
Though the number of men struggling with disorders like anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating are growing every year, women still, by and large, make up the bulk of patients struggling with eating disorders. Depending upon the type of eating disorder, the symptoms and signs will vary, but in general, concerned family members may identify the need for further investigation due to symptoms that include:
- An obsession with weight, both in self and others
- Constant derogatory comments about their weight, even if they are of normal weight or underweight
- Eating in secret
- Refusing to eat in front of others
- Exhibiting odd rituals about food and eating
- Slavishly following fad diets or excluding certain types of food from their diet
- Exercising excessively in order to burn as many or more calories than eaten
- Using laxatives, purging, or pills to rid the body of unwanted calories, especially after bingeing
If your loved one is struggling with a problem like addiction, it can cause or exacerbate a host of other medical disorders that can be life-altering – or life-ending. Contact us at Futures today to learn more about how we can help your family member begin to heal on all fronts.
What We Treat
Futures offers an integrated multidisciplinary approach for treating those suffering from drug or alcohol addictions as well as those with addiction and underlying co-occurring disorders.
How We Can Help
- Personalized Care
- Safe and Comfortable Medical Detoxification
- Comprehensive Introduction to Adherent DBT
- Intensive Clinically Based Program
- Luxury Accommodations and Amenities
- Experienced, Educated and Compassionate Staff
- Extensive Continuing Care
- Experiential and Cognitive Therapies
- 24 – Hour Medical Care
- Private Bedrooms / Private Baths
- A Healing, Process-Oriented Family Program