Drug testing ignores women

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MORE women take medicines than men at every stage of life yet drugs are tested on almost exclusively male groups, a report says today.

The sex bias against women in drug testing is reflected throughout the National Health Service which tends to focus on male concerns even though women are its main users.

The poor health care given to women is highlighted in the report which says pounds 1bn a year could be saved if the needs of those aged over 45 were better understood.

It says more attention should be given to heart disease, often seen as an exclusively male condition, and screening for breast cancer, currently offered to women aged 50-64, should be extended to those of 65 and over.

The report by the Pennel Initiative, set up last year to raise awareness of the health needs of older women and funded by the drug company Wyeth, says the results of drug trials in men are often generalised to women although they may not affect them in the same way.

In the pre-menopausal age group, almost one-quarter of women take medicines, excluding the contraceptive pill, compared with one in six men. Post-menopause, more than half of women take them compared with more than one in three men.

"Development of new drugs should specifically take account of the characteristics of women, particularly older women and those from ethnic minorities," it says.

Dame Rennie Fritchie, chair of the initiative, said: "Society thinks that women have a sell-by date of between 50 and 55. Women become more and more invisible as they get older and they don't have a voice. However, many of the things that affect women could be altered. By speaking out on their behalf it could make a real difference."

The report says most research into coronary heart disease is carried out on men and then generalised to women, even though it is the biggest cause of death among women over 45.

It also says women over 45 are twice as likely to suffer from depression as men of the same age.