How Drugs Affect the Sexes

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acid reflux drug Propulsid, put women at more risk of side effects than men.

“A bunch of these drugs were found to be toxic,” recalls Raymond D. Woosley, MD, PhD, vice president of the Arizona Health Sciences Center at the University of Arizona in Tucson. Woosley said researchers gradually came to see that the cases of side effects they were seeing were largely [occurring in] women, even though 10 times as many men were taking the drugs.

Armed with this information, Woosley went to the FDA, which is charged with making sure drugs are both effective and have an acceptable level of side effects, and to the National Institutes of Health. But, he says, no one was too concerned until the General Accounting Office, Congress’s watchdog agency, responded to a request from Congress and looked at drugs withdrawn since 1997 (the Infamous Ten) to see which ones had a greater adverse effect on women than men.

Although the GAO said there might have been more side effects in some because more women than men took them (for example, fen-psychiatry at Yale and head of the Center for Women’s Mental Health at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. “The FDA has mandated more attention to gender differences, but studies are not designed specifically to look at gender differences.”

Understanding the Differences

There is now some evidence, according to Woosley, that it’s not sex!