A gender hypothesis of sex disparities in adverse drug events

Katharine M.N. Lee*, Tamara Rushovich, Annika Gompers, Marion Boulicault, Steven Worthington, Jeffrey W. Lockhart, Sarah S. Richardson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

Pharmacovigilance databases contain larger numbers of adverse drug events (ADEs) that occurred in women compared to men. The cause of this disparity is frequently attributed to sex-linked biological factors. We offer an alternative Gender Hypothesis, positing that gendered social factors are central to the production of aggregate sex disparities in ADE reports. We describe four pathways through which gender may influence observed sex disparities in pharmacovigilance databases: healthcare utilization; bias and discrimination in the clinic; experience of a drug event as adverse; and pre-existing social and structural determinants of health. We then use data from the U.S. FDA Adverse Event Reporting System (FAERS) to explore how the Gender Hypothesis might generate novel predictions and explanations of sex disparities in ADEs in existing widely referenced datasets. Analyzing more than 37 million records of ADEs between 2014 and 2022, we find that patient-reported ADEs show a larger female skew than healthcare provider-reported ADEs and that the sex disparity is markedly smaller for outcomes involving death or hospitalization. We also find that the sex disparity varies greatly across types of ADEs, for example, cosmetically salient ADEs are skewed heavily female and sexual dysfunction ADEs are skewed male. Together, we interpret these findings as providing evidence of the promise of the Gender Hypothesis for identifying intervenable mechanisms and pathways contributing to sex disparities in ADEs. Rigorous application of the Gender Hypothesis to additional datasets and in future research studies could yield new insights into the causes of sex disparities in ADEs.
Original languageEnglish
Article number116385
JournalSocial Science and Medicine
Early online date8 Nov 2023
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023

Keywords / Materials (for Non-textual outputs)

  • adverse drug events
  • gender
  • pharmacovigilance
  • sex disparities
  • spontaneous reporting systems


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