His and Hers: How Health Differs Between the Sexes

Feb 28, 2024


Men and women share 98.2% of their DNA, but often experience health concerns differently, with varying risk factors, symptoms and causes. Andrew Lo, MD, and Carolee Ross, NP, internal medicine specialists, explain how health differs between the sexes.


One in five women will suffer a stroke after the age of 55, Ross notes. “Strokes kill twice as many women as breast cancer, though the latter gets a lot of national attention in women’s health,” she says.Why women are at risk: Women live about five years longer than men — and the risk for stroke increases with age. There’s also a hormonal connection, Ross says. After menopause, women experience an increase in vascular disease, which causes damage to blood vessels, including in the brain.

Alzheimer’s disease

About two-thirds of the six million people with Alzheimer’s disease are women.

Why women are at risk: Researchers believe age is the greatest risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease. “The disease can progress a little faster in women, and it’s more common in women,” Ross says. “Alzheimer’s also tends to start earlier for women, in their 60s, whereas men are more often diagnosed in their 70s.”


Ten million Americans have osteoporosis — and 80% of them are women, the Bone Health & Osteoporosis Foundation reports.

Why women are at risk: “Estrogen protects the bones. It helps keep the cycle of absorbing and releasing minerals in a positive balance,” Ross explains. When menopause starts, those estrogen levels can drop rather quickly. Osteoporosis can also lead to risk of bone fracture and even chronic pain, which is also more common in women.

Heart disease

Nearly one-quarter of men will die from heart disease, the leading cause of death in American men.

Why men are at risk: “Testosterone has a detrimental effect on the heart and on cholesterol,” Dr. Lo says. This tends to raise blood pressure and can be stressful to the heart and blood vessels. “Women are protected by their levels of estrogen, which increases good cholesterol, at least until menopause.”

Type 2 diabetes

In 2020, 15.5% of American men had diabetes, compared to 13.2% of women, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Why men are at risk: “Not all fat tissue is created equal, as studies have shown central fat that wraps around our internal organs is more inflammatory,” Dr. Lo says. Inflammation increases risk of type 2 diabetes. Estrogen, however, directs excess calories to fat in our legs and hips, which is much less prone to inflammation.

Kidney Stones

About 11% of men will have kidney stones in their lifetime, according to the National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases.

Why men are at risk: Dr. Lo says this may come down to lifestyle risk factors. Men tend to eat more meat than women, which can lead to mild kidney stones. However, men are also less prone to more complicated kidney stones, he explains, because it’s harder for bacteria to travel up the male urinary tract.

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