Sex and Gender Differences in Pharmacology

Volume 214 of the series Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology pp 169-182


Gender and Polypharmacotherapy in the Elderly: A Clinical Challenge

  • Christina Hofer-DückelmannAffiliated withPharmacy Department, Landesapotheke am St. Johanns Spital Email author 

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Polypharmacotherapy is a major concern in the elderly and especially in older women after the age of 80. It results from the intake of prescription and non-prescription drugs, being often a problem of evidence-based therapy. Besides the fact that women live longer than men and outnumber them, reasons for polypharmacy in women are diverse and include a different attitude towards intake of drugs between men and women, the propensity of women to rather see a physician and talk about their problems, the load of family responsibility as women are the main caregivers within a family, the influence of physician sex on patient care, the level of education, social deprivation and self-rated health. Women are more often prescribed potentially inappropriate medication and more often become victims of adverse drug reactions. This is not only due to the number and quality of drugs prescribed but also to differences in pharmacokinetics and - dynamics which make them more vulnerable to drug exposure. Thus, inappropriate prescribing contributes to hospitalization, poor quality of life, costs, compliance issues and poor outcomes. More preclinical and clinical studies with elderly patients and especially elderly women are needed to study the underlying mechanisms of the pharmacologic differences and obtain more insight into the difference in risk between men and women. Attention to prescribing of medications, consistent review of medication lists, and reevaluation of indications and outcomes of prescribing are essential to ensure that drugs are used appropriately in elderly women, polypharmacy is minimized and safety for patients is maximized.