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Women are different from men when it comes to health

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February 23rd, 2015
male and female medical figures
male and female medical figures

Women live longer than men, but for men and women, the gap in life expectancy is narrowing. Today on average, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), women live 81.2 years and men live 76.4 years. This gap of 4.8 years is an improvement since 1979, when it was 5.2 years.

The extra years, however, can have some disadvantages. The CDC reports that living longer means women develop different chronic conditions and tend to experience more functional limitations. There are other health differences between the sexes, too. Recognizing some of these disparities may mean a longer and healthier life. 

Causes of death

Regardless of other health variations, the top cause of death for both sexes is the same. “The number one killer of both men and women is coronary heart disease,” says Carmel Dyer, M.D., professor and director of the geriatric and palliative medicine division at the University of Texas Health Science Center in Houston, Tex. “Along with other risk factors, women have to keep in mind that as they age and estrogen levels decrease, they become similar to men with regard to the risk of coronary heart disease.”

Women can also have unusual symptoms of heart disease. “Instead of classic chest pain or tightness, women may experience nausea, shoulder pain, or back pain,” says Betsy Moody, M.D., medical director at

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