Gender-based differences and menstrual cycle-related changes in specific diseases: implications for pharmacotherapy

Pharmacotherapy. 2000 May;20(5):523-39. doi: 10.1592/phco.20.6.523.35161.


Pharmacists should be aware of gender-based differences and menstrual cycle-related changes in six diseases: asthma, arthritis, migraine, diabetes, depression, and epilepsy. In general, women report symptoms of physical illness at higher rates, visit physicians more frequently, and make greater use of other health care services than men. Whereas reasons for these gender differences are not fully clear, a combination of biologic, physiologic, social, behavioral, psychologic, and cultural factors most likely contributes. A significant percentage of women with asthma, arthritis, migraine, diabetes, depression, or epilepsy experience worsening of their disease premenstrually. The mechanism is unknown, but is speculated to be multifactorial because of many endogenous and exogenous modulators and mediators of each disease. As part of general therapy for cycle-related exacerbations of any one of these disorders, patients should be encouraged to use a menstrual calendar to track signs and symptoms for two to three cycles; if cyclic trends are identified, the women should anticipate exacerbations and avoid triggering factors. Cyclic modulation with pharmacotherapy may be attempted. If unsuccessful, a trial of medical ovulation suppression with a gonadotropin-releasing hormone (GnRH) analog may be warranted. If that is successful, continuous therapy with a GnRH analog and steroid add-back therapy or less expensive alternatives may be effective. If pharmacotherapy is impractical, hysterectomy and bilateral oophorectomy with estrogen replacement therapy is a last resort. Gender differences and menstrual cycle-related changes are important areas for clinical and mechanistic research.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Arthritis / drug therapy
  • Arthritis / epidemiology
  • Asthma / drug therapy
  • Asthma / epidemiology
  • Depression / drug therapy
  • Depression / epidemiology
  • Diabetes Mellitus / drug therapy
  • Diabetes Mellitus / epidemiology
  • Drug Therapy*
  • Epilepsy / drug therapy
  • Epilepsy / epidemiology
  • Female
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / analogs & derivatives
  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone / therapeutic use
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Menstrual Cycle* / physiology
  • Migraine Disorders / drug therapy
  • Migraine Disorders / epidemiology
  • Risk Factors
  • Sex Factors


  • Gonadotropin-Releasing Hormone