Gender differences: are there differences even in Pediatrics and Neonatology?

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According to the principles of Gender Medicine men and women, for their biological diversity, also have different sensitivity to certain diseases and respond differently to certain treatments. It would seem a trivial consideration, but until now little attention has been devoted to these issues. Suffice it to say that no ‘leaflet’ of drugs includes different doses for males and females, while everyone knows that, for example, certain substances such as alcohol have a greater impact on women’s metabolism than on men’s (and it is not just a problem of weight).

Studies to determine gender differences began years ago mainly on adults. The first systematic attempt to bring order into the chaos of research in this field was made in the subject of Psychology in 1974 by Maccoby and Jacklin. Summarising the results of over 1,400 empirical studies on 80 personality traits and cognitive abilities, the authors concluded that it was possible to see differences in a consistent way only in the following cognitive domains: language, in which women were considered to have greater competence, visual-spatial and mathematics, in which instead men were found to be more skilful. In terms of personality, men also appeared to be generally more aggressive than women, both physically and verbally.

Subsequent studies have essentially confirmed these results by extending the analysis to more complex aspects such as attitudes, cognitive styles, interpersonal aspects etc.. However, these differences are not expressed exclusively in neurocognitive and psychological fields, but also in a broader context involving multiple organ systems in various organic and functional expressions. This diversity can be present in children even in the earliest stages of their life.

Moreover, the main scientific explanations of gender differences in a wider scope of psychological and somatic factors lead to biological factors: hormonal, genetic and evolutionary causes have been called into play to demonstrate that men and women are different in their structure not only the psychobiological basis of the Central Nervous System, but also in other parenchyma during the development and accretion phase, beyond the obvious physical and physiological differences. This paper covers the main steps that led to defining the concept of “Gender Medicine” during adulthood and then extrapolate this concept also for newborn infants, children and adolescents, a field in which some issues are well known and others are being developed.

Over the years, medical research has identified an important group of diseases mainly of adulthood, and interesting several districts that have a higher expression in a gender rather than in the other. A short list of these diseases, an approach in which “gender” has meant a better understanding and better treatment, is described below. 

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doi: 10.7363/010110
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