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Women's Health

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Women respond differently to medications than men and should be proactive about their medication use

Women take more medications than men. They also respond differently to medications and are more likely than men to suffer medication-related injuries (adverse drug events). However, women have been underrepresented in clinical drug studies, and much still needs to be learned about the optimal, safe, and effective use of medications by women. Thus, women should be proactive about their medication use, according to Rosaly Correa-de-Araujo, M.D., M.Sc., Ph.D., Senior Advisor for Women's Health at the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. She recommends that women take responsibility for their own health and ask clinicians questions about diagnosis, treatment, and medication use.

Women should make sure they understand the need for each medication they are taking and take them at the right dosage and time. They should ask their doctor or pharmacist about side effects, as well as potential interactions with other prescription medications, dietary supplements, herbal products, foods, and beverages. Women who are scheduled to undergo surgery should ask about the need to stop taking medications before their surgery, since some drugs (including herbal products) can interfere with anesthesia or blood clotting.

Women should inform doctors and pharmacists about all medications being taken, any allergies to medications, and if they are pregnant or plan to become pregnant in the near future. Finally, women should learn how to do their own research on medications and always read the Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved drug package inserts for prescription and nonprescription medicines.

In a second article, Dr. Correa-de-Araujo introduces topics addressed in an April 2004 panel meeting of 35 multidisciplinary experts. The meeting was convened by AHRQ to provide a forum for discussing issues related to improving the use and safety of medications for women. Topics ranged from the impact of sex and race/ethnicity on drug formulations, drug delivery systems, and medication effects to ongoing efforts to include women in clinical drug trials and drug company trials of over 350 new medicines for diseases of major concern to women.

See "It's your health: Use your medications safely," and "Improving the use and safety of medications in women through sex/gender and race/ethnicity analysis: Introduction," by Dr. Correa-de-Araujo, in the Journal of Women's Health 14(1), pp. 12-15, and 16-18, 2005. Reprints (AHRQ Publication Nos. 05-R020 and 05-R021) are available from the AHRQ Publications Clearinghouse.

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