A new study found that women are diagnosed far later in life than men for similar diseases, highlighting a surprising disparity.
Researchers analyzed the data of 6.9 million Danish people and found that on average, women get a diagnosis when they are four years older than the age of a man who has the same condition.
"We have looked not just at diseases, but also at the course of the patient care," explained Søren Brunak, the author of the study. "Our study zooms in on the areas where the differences are most pronounced — both for the individual diseases and for the course of the patient care."
The study, which is conducted by researchers from the Novo Nordisk Foundation Center for Protein Research, was published in the journal Nature Communications in February 2019.
Differences In Diagnoses
Across 770 types of diseases, the women are on average four years older than men when they receive their diagnoses. However, when it comes to cancer, women received diagnoses 2.5 years after men for the same condition. For metabolic diseases like diabetes, women received diagnoses 4.5 years later.
The only exception is osteoporosis. The study found that women receive a diagnosis of the condition earlier than men and often before they experience a fracture. Men have to turn up at the emergency room with a broken bone before they get told they have osteoporosis.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, on average, is diagnosed among women six years after men. For example, boys get their diagnosis around 14 years old. Girls often get theirs when they are 20 years old.
However, the researchers noted that the disparity stems from the fact that girls have a different subtype of ADHD that often manifests in a solitary manner in contrast to boys' externalizing behaviors.
Tailored Screening For Diseases
The researchers have no idea why women get a later diagnosis, but they believe that the discovery is proof that healthcare providers should consider sex when it comes to screening for diseases.
"It has been surprising to see that there is such a big difference between the diseases that affect men and women and between their patient care courses in a society where otherwise, we have equal and uniform access to the healthcare system," asked David Westergaard, the first author of the study.
"Now we are trying to map out what really lies behind the differences we see. Can they e.g. be attributed to genetics or environment and culture?'"
The researchers will continue investigating the differences to identify the underlying cause of the later diagnoses in women. They also believe that future studies should begin making subanalysis to see if the results differ between sexes.