You may have heard of the gender pay gap, but there’s another gap in our society that negatively impacts women. It’s the gender research gap—an ongoing problem where women’s experiences and unique health issues are overlooked in medical research studies.
The gap happens because women have been historically underrepresented in research, with the majority of research studies focused on men or testing mostly male participants. In the past, researchers considered men the “standard” and women’s bodies too complex to test. They assumed that findings would apply to both genders, but now we know that’s not the case. This assumption has led to women's health concerns being misunderstood, ignored, or mistreated.
Today’s researchers are more aware of the gender research gap and are working to include more women in studies as well as create studies designed just for women. But in the meantime, many women are still at risk of misdiagnoses and misinformation about their health.
Let’s look at the most common health issues that women experience differently than men, and what women can do to make sure their concerns are heard.
5 Health Concerns that Present Differently in Women
1. Heart Attacks
Despite the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death in American women, heart attacks are commonly perceived as a male health issue. Unfortunately, many heart attacks in women go unnoticed because women’s symptoms can differ from the classic signs experienced by men. Instead of the warning signs that are common in men—chest and left arm pain—women may experience symptoms such as fatigue, shortness of breath, nausea, lightheadedness, or discomfort in the neck, jaw, or back. Because these signs are subtler and less understood, women are less likely to get help when they need it.
2. ADHD (Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder)
Commonly attributed symptoms of ADHD are hyperactivity, impulsivity, and disruptive behavior. In reality, these are only the ADHD signs that are most prevalent in males—ADHD manifests much differently in women. Rather than hyperactive behavior, women with ADHD tend to struggle more with lack of focus, disorganization, and restlessness. Because girls and women don’t act like typical males with ADHD, their condition is often overlooked or misdiagnosed as stress, hormone imbalances, or other factors. This keeps many women in a frustrating cycle and prevents them from getting the support they need to live well with ADHD.
3. Autoimmune Diseases
Autoimmune diseases—such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and multiple sclerosis—tend to affect more women than men. Still, these conditions are often misdiagnosed or diagnosed much later in women because their symptoms differ from men’s, which are more researched. Women with autoimmune diseases frequently experience fatigue, joint pain, inflammation, and mood changes. As with heart attacks and ADHD, these symptoms are often shrugged off as effects of stress or hormone shifts.
4. Depression and Anxiety
While depression and anxiety disorders affect both men and women, they are often identified quicker in men. This is because men tend to have more external symptoms of mood changes, such as irritability and aggression, that are steady and easier to recognize. Women, on the other hand, tend to experience more internalized symptoms that can fluctuate with hormone shifts such as sadness, guilt, changes in appetite, or disrupted sleep patterns.
Thyroid disorders, including hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism, are more prevalent in women. Yet, these conditions frequently go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed. Why? Women with thyroid disorders often experience fatigue, weight changes, menstrual irregularities, hair loss, and mood swings—all common symptoms that are easily misinterpreted as general stress, menstrual irregularity, or even normal aging.
We may have to wait a few years until research catches up and sheds more light on women’s health concerns. Until then, the best thing we can do is listen to our bodies. You know your mind and body best—when something feels off, don’t hesitate to reach out to a healthcare provider you trust to discuss your symptoms and find a solution that works for you.
Medically Reviewed by:
Kimberly Langdon M.D. is a retired, board-certified obstetrician/gynecologist with 19-years of clinical experience. She completed her OB/GYN residency program at The Ohio State University Medical Center After clinical practice, she founded a medical device company where she invented six patented medical devices for both life-threatening and non-life-threatening conditions.