4 Women's Health Trends Pharmacists Should Watch

The term women's health" shouldn't be limited to reproductive matters.

The term “women’s health” shouldn’t be limited to reproductive matters.

Health care professionals often associate the term “women’s health” with pregnancy and gynecology, but in reality, health issues and care strategies for women are much broader.

Source: Advisory Board Company

According to research findings from the Advisory Board Company, 62% of women attribute their lack of health care knowledge to a lack of time, while 77% report not knowing what to do in order to stay healthy.

Pharmacists are well placed to shift the women’s health paradigm and help women better understand their entire health status.

Here are a few key trends pharmacists should keep in mind regarding this patient population:

1. The aging population is shifting care demand.

The number of women aged 65 and older is projected to increase by 35% over the next decade, so pharmacists should be prepared to work with and counsel elderly female patients.

Certain conditions may affect elderly women in particular. For example, acute coronary syndrome is a problem in the elderly population because survival rates decline with increasing age.

Men experience their first myocardial infarction (MI) around age 65, but that initial event is more likely to occur about 7 years later for women, at around age 72. Those who experience a first MI after age 75 have life expectancies of just 3.2 years.

Meanwhile, one study showed that the mortality rate among elderly women with persistent constipation was 11%, and many more reported significantly lower quality of life and higher levels of depression.

2. Suicide rates are increasing for women.

Although suicide rates in the United States declined prior to 1999, it’s been up 63% for women aged 45 to 65 years and up 200% for girls aged 10 to 14 years since then. The rising suicide rates for these age groups substantiate the idea that women are most vulnerable during periods of hormonal transition, namely menopause and puberty.

While it’s difficult to definitively determine the cause behind the increases, the CDC speculates that shifting gender dynamics in both the workplace and home may be leaving women feeling strained as they try to balance their roles.

Understanding these factors may help pharmacists prevent suicide.

Pharmacists Preventing Suicide founder and president C. Patrick Tharp, PhD, previously told Pharmacy Times that pharmacists are ideally situated to assist those in need because of their frequent interactions with patients and access to medical records. Because pharmacists regularly dispense mental health medications such as antidepressants, for example, they’re in a unique position to identify patients who may have suicidal thoughts.

Certain weight-loss drugs carry a black box warning for suicide ideation, so patients taking these medications should be monitored, as well.

3. Symptoms and treatments for different diseases may vary greatly between men and women.

Disease states can affect the bodies of women and men very differently, and so treatment plans may not be interchangeable between sexes.

The table below provides some examples of diseases and disorders that affect men and women in notably different ways.

Source: Advisory Board Company

Although cardiovascular disease (CVD) is the No. 1 killer among women, just 13% of women surveyed by the American Heart Association perceive it as a health threat. This is because CVD is often viewed as a “man’s disease.”

“Cardiovascular disease among younger women has only recently received research attention, and it is possible that the perception of risk for adverse outcomes…is still skewed for younger women, who are seen as healthy and low risk,” CVD researcher Kate Smolina, PhD, previously told Pharmacy Times.

In addition, some studies have suggested that less is more when it comes to osteoporosis drug therapy for women, as they may be overtreated for the bone condition.

Pharmacists should also familiarize themselves with the differences in pharmacokinetics and/or pharmacodynamics of drugs in men and women. Adults are often given the same dose of drug regardless of body weight, so women tend to have higher serum concentrations of drugs than men.

Other gender differences, such as differences in bioavailability, metabolism, and renal elimination, may also be involved.

4. Less than half of American women exercise regularly.

Just 48.2% of US women report getting at least 150 minutes of exercise per week, according to a report from the Institute for Women’s Policy Research.

Low rates of exercise contribute to the staggering obesity problem among women. In 1996, only 16.7% of women were obese, but obesity’s prevalence has increased more than 50% among women in the past decade.

Pharmacists can let obese women know that the estimated annual health care-related cost of obesity in the United States was $147 billion in 2008, according to the CDC. In addition, obese patients face an extra $1429 in annual medical costs on average compared with patients with a healthy weight.

Meanwhile, studies suggest that women who regularly exercise may have a reduced risk of developing ovarian cancer.

For women who do exercise, however, pharmacists should know that women are at greater risk for injury than men because of their lean muscle-to-fat ratio, musculature, and bone structure. In order to prevent injury, pharmacists should remind women to avoid insufficient warm-up, high-training intensities, muscle fatigue, and hamstring tightness.