Drugs That Work Differently in Women and Men

By Medically reviewed by Hello Doktor Medical Panel

To our surprise, research suggests that gender has a huge influence on how medication is metabolized. It may decide the medication’s potency, efficacy, and side effects.

How the female biology affects drug action

Besides body weight, other biological factors associated with the female gender may affect how the body metabolizes certain drugs. One of which is the extra body fat. Since women have more body fat than men, fat-soluble medications will be distributed differently in women. Fat-soluble drugs include  antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and antipsychotics.

Although scientists are not sure why, it’s observed that certain antidepressants and antipsychotics are more effective in women. However, they still have to suffer some side effects from antidepressants such as decreased sex drive. While men can use Viagra to deal with this side effect, women don’t have any choice.

Another difference lies in the digestive process of women. Women generally produce less gastric acid than men do. As a result, they digest food much slower. Therefore, when they use medications that require an acidic environment to be absorbed (antifungal ketoconazole, for example), they receive fewer positive effects. Also, when women need to use a drug that needs an empty stomach for absorption, they have to wait for a longer period of time after their last meal.

How estrogen affects drug action

Drug action is also affected by hormones. During menstruation and menopause, a woman’s hormone levels fluctuate. Estrogen may somehow interfere with the way the liver processes medication. If the liver is not able to do its job efficiently, the concentration of a drug in the blood rises even if the drug was taken in the safe dosage. The same applies to medications filtered by the kidneys. Research shows that the female body gets rid of the cancer drug methotrexate 13 to 17% slower than the male body.

Heart medications and women

Drugs used to treat heart conditions work differently in women as well. Low-dose aspirin is not helpful to reduce the risk of heart attack in women due to a greater chance of bleeding. Also, women who use beta-blockers experience a greater risk of re-hospitalization. Women are recommended to take smaller doses of the blood thinner warfarin. Particularly, according to the American Family Physician, a woman needs 2.5 to 4.5 mg less warfarin than a man in a week.

Pain medication and sleep aids

Painkillers have different side effects in different genders. A 2002 study found a correlation between the use of acetaminophen and non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications in women and an elevated risk of high blood pressure. Those who took NSAIDs for more than 22 days a month suffered a 86% increased risk of hypertension while those who took acetaminophen were twice likely to have hypertension.

Women also have difficulty excreting sleep aids. It’s reported that women have a hard time driving after taking sleep drugs the previous day due to slow metabolism. In 2013, the FDA advised that women should only take half the dose of the sleep drug Ambien that men usually take.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

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Review Date: July 7, 2017 | Last Modified: December 9, 2019

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