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Soriano Maldonado, C. Gender Differences in the Diagnosis of Dyslipidemia. Encyclopedia. Available online: (accessed on 11 December 2023).
Soriano Maldonado C. Gender Differences in the Diagnosis of Dyslipidemia. Encyclopedia. Available at: Accessed December 11, 2023.
Soriano Maldonado, Cristina. "Gender Differences in the Diagnosis of Dyslipidemia" Encyclopedia, (accessed December 11, 2023).
Soriano Maldonado, C.(2021, December 10). Gender Differences in the Diagnosis of Dyslipidemia. In Encyclopedia.
Soriano Maldonado, Cristina. "Gender Differences in the Diagnosis of Dyslipidemia." Encyclopedia. Web. 10 December, 2021.
Gender Differences in the Diagnosis of Dyslipidemia

Evidence shows that objectives for detecting and controlling dyslipidemia are not being effectively met, and outcomes differ between men and women.

diagnostic inertia gender differences dyslipidemia primary health care

1. Introduction

Cardiovascular diseases (CVD) are still the leading cause of mortality, accounting for 31% of all deaths worldwide. Most CVD can be prevented by acting on modifiable risk factors [1]; however, the evidence shows that targets for detecting and controlling these risk factors have not been fully achieved. Dyslipidemia is one of the main cardiovascular risk factors. Although its prevalence exceeds 50% in Europe [2] (specifically, it ranges from 31% to 50% in Spain [3]), it is the least considered and treated risk factor, and despite modest gains, its control is still insufficient [4][5]. The recent IBERICAN study [5] shows that only 25.8% of patients with dyslipidemia are well controlled.
Even though CVD is the main cause of death in women [6][7], it is still perceived as a man’s disease [8][9]. Women and men generally share the same cardiovascular risk factors, but these have differential effects according to gender. For example, in women metabolic syndrome is the most important risk factor for developing ischemic heart disease at an unusually young age [10]; smoking is more likely to cause coronary ischemia in women than in men [11]; and the onset of hypertension and dyslipidemia is later in women, but also more poorly controlled [12][13].
Since the turn of the century, understanding has grown around the need to focus more on sex- and gender-related differences in the prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of CVD [14]. In 2007, the American Heart Association published evidence-based guidelines focused on the primary prevention of CVD in women, which were later updated in 2011 as effectiveness-based guidelines [15]. Despite the improvements that this guidance promoted, evidence indicates that healthcare delivery and outcomes still differ between women and men. Particularly worrisome are findings that women with a similar level of CVD risk as men are less likely to receive treatment or preventive recommendations [14][16]. Furthermore, women are less likely to receive treatment intensification or achieve the optimal treatment effect [17][18]. When these differences systematically lead to gender inequalities related to established roles and stereotypes, this can be a determinant of differences in health outcomes [19].
Broadly speaking, the poor control of dyslipidemia in both sexes may be related, on the one hand, to limitations in the predictive capacity of the SCORE scale to detect cardiovascular disease [20], and on the other hand, to clinical inertia. Phillips was the first to define this concept in 2001 [21] as “the failure of physicians to initiate or intensify treatment when it was indicated”. Subsequently, the term has been reformulated as therapeutic inertia. Some studies on this topic, such as the one published by Chou AF et al. [22] in 2007, report low control of low-density lipoprotein (LDL) cholesterol in all patients, but especially in women, suggesting a less intensive cholesterol treatment in women, that is, greater therapeutic inertia in this group. Gil-Guillén et al.’s [23] working group differentiated between “diagnostic inertia,” or the failure to initiate treatment, and “therapeutic inertia,” or the failure to intensify it. In a systematic review on the concept of therapeutic inertia in arterial hypertension in primary care [24], review authors recognized the new definition of diagnostic inertia for the first time. Clinical inertia is frequent in pathologies such as arterial hypertension [25] or dyslipidemia; in a 2014 cross-sectional study, investigators observed that 38% of all cholesterol alterations and 17.7% of alterations in high-density lipoprotein (HDL) cholesterol were not diagnosed [26]. Regarding the factors associated with clinical inertia, Meador et al. [27] found that younger or obese people may be at higher risk of having their hypertension remain undiagnosed. Studies exploring the clinical inertia for dyslipidemia are scarce, Palazon et al. [26] observed that type-2 diabetes, non-smoking, previous coronary heart disease, blood pressure values, and body mass index were factors associated with diagnostic inertia for dyslipidemia. There is a lack of research analyzing specifically the gender association with clinical inertia.
Until the second half of the 20th century, women were not included in experimental studies, so much of the current knowledge about the main diseases affecting population health comes from studies carried out exclusively in men, with their results also applied to women [28]. This gender bias in research and the scant consideration of sex-related differences in clinical trials undermine the certainty of the evidence produced and may have negative consequences for health. In 2015, Vázquez et al. [29] identified a triple gender bias in the health system, while Ruíz-Cantero MT et al. [30] highlighted the importance of analyzing diagnostic criteria and normal cutoff points from a gender perspective, especially for diseases associated principally with men. In 2018, Aggarwal et al. [31] concluded that risk factors for ischemic heart disease should be stratified by sex. Although recent research shows detrimental gender biases in terms of diagnostic delay and errors in women [32], to our knowledge no study has assessed differences in the application of diagnostic criteria for dyslipidemia between men and women.

2. Insightful Analysis

In a primary care setting, 18% of adults who met the diagnostic criteria for dyslipidemia do not have a registered diagnosis nor have they been prescribed treatment. This proportion was significantly higher in women (20.1%) than in men (15.8%). Patients affected by diagnostic inertia were relatively young; had a normal weight; did not smoke; presented alterations in systolic blood pressure, HDL cholesterol, total cholesterol, LDL cholesterol or triglycerides, or had missing values on their EMR. This pattern differed slightly between women and men, with younger age and missing analytical values showing a higher-magnitude association with diagnostic inertia in women. On the other hand, men who presented diagnostic inertia had higher cardiovascular risk scores for morbidity and mortality compared to women. In both groups, there is a lack of assessment of subclinical disease (comorbidities) and this may promote clinical inertia and determine the course of cardiovascular diseases.
Regarding the factors associated with diagnostic inertia, a diagnosis of arterial hypertension and younger age (30–49 years) had a greater association with inertia in women than in men. These results are similar to those described by Palazón et al. [26] in 2014, who observed that being a woman, being middle-aged (45–59 years), and having hypertension were associated with diagnostic inertia in dyslipidemia. One notable difference between their study and ours is that we calculated the proportion of patients presenting diagnostic inertia on the basis of a population meeting diagnostic criteria for dyslipidemia, whereas Palazón et al. [26] used patients that did not have a diagnosis of dyslipidemia as the denominator.
Other studies have studied diagnostic inertia in hypertension, although we are not aware of any that have performed an analysis stratified by gender. Johnson et al. [33] found that young adults with diabetes, higher blood pressures, or a female provider had a faster diagnosis rate in a region of the USA. On the other hand, recently, Meador et al. [27] reported that young age and obesity were factors associated with diagnosis inertia in hypertension among patients from the USA. In 2016, Pallares et al. [34] observed a high prevalence of inertia in patients from a Spanish region, although unlike our results in dyslipidemia, theirs showed that inertia was associated with male sex and older age. On the other hand, in their 2010 study, Gil-Guillén et al. [23] observed a higher level of inertia in women with hypertension, which is consistent with our results. Furthermore, those authors observed an association between inertia and non-smoking.
In 2021, a study was conducted on therapeutic inertia in dyslipidemia and hypertension in patients with type 2 diabetes mellitus [35]. The authors observed a significant delay in initiating treatment for primary prevention in both cases, regardless of cardiovascular risk, and in all age groups. However, the analysis was not stratified by sex. Indeed, despite the existence of studies on diagnostic inertia in dyslipidemia and hypertension, there are hardly any published studies that analyze the risk of morbidity and mortality related to diagnostic inertia according to sex. Diagnostic inertia should not be attributed solely to error; it may also be due to the primary care physician’s more conservative attitude toward treatment. However, our results add to the evidence of gender inequalities in dyslipidemia management. A meta-analysis in 2016 that analyzed statins prescriptions showed that women were 24% less likely to be prescribed statins and 48% more likely to be prescribed an inappropriate dose [36]. Moreno-Arellano et al. reported similar results in 2018 [37].
Possible inequalities in women’s health derived from the sex-related differences detected in this study could cause gender inequalities (roles, behaviors, and identities established by society that are assigned to women and men) [38] if it is confirmed that the professional decisions regarding the same health problem are different between men and women [39]. These differences could be related to gender stereotypes, which refer to a set of imposed, strongly assumed, ideas about the characteristics, attitudes, and aptitudes of women and men. The higher prevalence of diagnostic inertia in dyslipidemia in women could represent an indirect form of gender-based discrimination. Furthermore, gender roles (behaviors accepted as feminine and/or masculine) can influence health professionals’ decision-making when diagnosing or initiating treatment [30][32][36][37][38][39]. To improve women’s cardiovascular health, it is essential to raise awareness of the unique aspects of dyslipidemia in women, both among professionals and in the population. Physicians’ attitudes and practice can be key determinants of women reaching their dyslipidemia control targets. It is important that health professionals include gender equity among their aims and consider the objectives of gender-based medicine in their clinical practice [40].


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