, Volume 3, Issue 4, pp 327-355

Sex differences in complaints and diagnoses

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This paper examines male-female differences in complaints and diagnoses for ambulatory care visits. Data are from the 1975 National Ambulatory Medical Care Survey, a national probability survey of visits to office-based physicians. The results suggest that: (1) Men are often unaware of serious health problems, they delay seeking diagnosis and care for symptoms, and they hesitate to admit symptoms and known health problems when they do visit a physician. (2) Women appear to have a more diffuse view of illness. They often report both mental and physical symptoms, and their physical symptoms “radiate” throughout the body rather than remain localized. (3) Both sexes confuse reproductive, digestive, and urinary symptoms because the body systems overlap. (4) Some sex differences in diagnoses for a particular symptom reflect real morbidity differences. (5) There is little evidence that women and men differ in their perception, interpretation, and description of physical symptoms. (6) The evidence for sex bias in physicians' diagnoses is scant.

This is a revised version of a paper presented at the American Public Health Association meetings, Los Angeles, October 1978.