Do drugs work differently in men and women?


Quick Munch

  • Gender plays a vital role in effects of a large range of medications.
  • Certain antidepressants are more effective in women than men.
  • Methotrexate clears the body 13 to 17% slower in women than in men.

Women metabolize alcohol differently as they get intoxicated more rapidly than men and metabolize alcohol slower. If women respond differently than men do to alcohol, wouldn’t the same things apply for drugs?

Answer is YES! Gender indeed plays a big role in things like potency, side-effects, efficiency of a large range of medications.

Biological Effects

Along with weight, which is one of the factors, there are several other parts of female biology that affects how a woman responds to a particular drug.

As compared to men, women have a large storage of fat. Therefore, any medication which is fat soluble distribute differently in woman. Many medications of psychiatry fall into this category including anti-anxiety, antidepressants and antipsychotics.

The reason is unknown why women tend to respond better to certain antidepressants and antipsychotics. According to a study, women do better than men with the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Zoloft, with verapamil for bipolar disorder, and also tricyclic antidepressants like Tofranil.

Digestion is yet another difference between men and women. Women produce lesser gastric acid and thus digest food slower than men. Therefore medicines like antifungal ketoconazole, that need an acidic environment, may not be very effective in women.

Effects of estrogen

Hormones also affect the ways in which drugs are metabolized in the body. Menopause and menstrual cycles make hormones of a women’s body to fluctuate. For example, estrogen can impede the way in which women’s body breaks down medications. As the job of liver is to filter out toxins, the body thinks medications are toxins.

When the liver doesn’t do its job of filtering properly, the concentration of the drug in the blood becomes higher. Even the medications that are filtered in the kidneys, like the cancer drug methotrexate, clear the body to approximately 13 to 17 percent slower in women than in men.

Heart medications

Medications for heart also react differently in men and women. The recommendation of low-dose aspirin, which is advised to help the risk of cardiac arrest, has been removed for women. The reason is higher potential for bleeding in women. For instance, warfarin, a blood-thinning drug, which is used to prevent blood clots and strokes, is recommended in smaller doses for women.

Pain medications

Pain killers too act differently in men and women. Studies reveal that women taking acetaminophen (Tylenol) and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications, like ibuprofen, are more likely to experience high blood pressure as compared to those who didn’t take those medications.

Drug Safety

Due to biological differences men and women act differently to different drug and women may be more likely than men to experience side effects of drugs. But, that doesn’t mean women should stop taking medications. Most of the time men and women are safe taking the same dosage of medication, but sometimes women are more likely to experience side effects.

Therefore it is advisable that before taking any new medication, consult your doctor or health consultant and share your history (if any) of these medications with them to avoid any possible side-effects in the future.

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