Sex differences in incidence of respiratory symptoms and management by general practitioners

Fam Pract. 2020 Oct 19;37(5):631-636. doi: 10.1093/fampra/cmaa040.


Background: Differences between women and men play an important role in lung physiology and epidemiology of respiratory diseases, but also in the health care processes.

Objective: To analyse sex differences in patients encountering their general practitioner (GP) with respiratory symptoms with regard to incidence, GP's management and final diagnoses.

Methods: Retrospective cohort study, using data of the Dutch Practice Based Research Network. All patients who encountered their GP from 01-07-2013 until 30-06-2018 with a new episode of care starting with a reason for encounter in the respiratory category (R) of the ICPC-2 classification were included (n = 16 773). Multi-level logistic regression was used to analyse influence of patients' sex on management of GPs with adjustment for possible confounders.

Results: We found a significant higher incidence of respiratory symptoms in women than in men: 230/1000 patient years [95% confidence interval (CI) 227-232] and 186/1000 patient years (95% CI 183-189), respectively. When presenting with cough, GPs are more likely to perform physical examination [odds ratio (OR) 1.22; 95% CI 1.11-1.35] and diagnostic radiology (OR 1.25; 95% CI 1.08-1.44), but less likely to prescribe medication (OR 0.88; 95% CI 0.82-0.95) in men. When visiting the GP with dyspnoea, men more often undergo diagnostic imaging (OR 1.32; 95% CI 1.05-1.66) and are more often referred to a specialist (OR 1.35; 95% CI 1.13-1.62).

Conclusions: Women encounter their GP more frequently with respiratory symptoms than men and GPs perform more diagnostic investigations in men. We suggest more research in general practice focussing on sex differences and possible confounders.

Keywords: Family practice; general practice; respiration disorders; respiratory symptoms; sex bias; sex factors.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Female
  • General Practice*
  • General Practitioners*
  • Humans
  • Incidence
  • Male
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Sex Characteristics