Breakthroughs in Women’s Health

As the medical community has belatedly acknowledged, women experience many diseases differently than men—and they are more prone to a number of ailments. Fortunately, Chicago today stands at the epicenter of women’s health research. In the following pages, we examine the latest developments on a wide range of medical fronts that have particular urgency for women

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EATING DISORDERS

On one hand, two-thirds of American women are overweight. On the other, many are struggling with eating disorders, such as anorexia, bulimia, and binge eating. In their lifetimes, women are three times more likely to experience anorexia and bulimia than men and 75 percent more likely to suffer from a binge-eating disorder.

“Men are more likely to have issues with alcohol,” says the psychologist Joyce Corsica, the director of outpatient psychotherapy at Rush, who recently published a review in Current Opinion and Gastroenterology about the biological and behavioral underpinnings of food addiction. She theorizes that some women have food addictions—especially related to sweets, carbohydrates, and fats—that come from alterations in neurochemistry. “Women are more likely to have issues with food,” she says. “Women report having more food cravings for sure.” (The top craved food: chocolate.)

Eating disorders affect women so disproportionately that Eunice Chen, a psychologist at the U. of C. Medical Center, says that her Adult Eating and Weight Disorders Clinic studies only women. Binging women (who are often in their 40s) feel a loss of control and eat a lot of food in a short time. Bulimics (who are often in their late 20s) compensate for binge eating with diuretics, laxatives, and vomiting. Researchers at the U. of C. are working on a five-year study of treatments but cannot look at the data or say anything about the results until it ends in 2012. (To enroll, call 773-834-9120.) In the meantime, Chen and her colleagues teach women skills and strategies to manage their eating.

On the anorexia front, researchers are figuring out how best to treat teens suffering from the affliction. Those who weigh less than 75 percent of what is considered normal need to get stabilized at a hospital. But recently, a University of Chicago and Stanford study reported that anorexic teens fare better in the long run if they’re at home with their parents. “The idea is to keep them out of the hospital,” says Daniel Le Grange, the director of the eating disorders clinic at the U. of C. Medical Center, a senior author of the study, and the coauthor of Help Your Teenager Beat an Eating Disorder. “With few exceptions, being medically unstable—at less than 75 percent of ideal body weight—should be the only reason for inpatient eating disorder treatment.” Traditionally parents were kept out of the picture, he says, because moms were wrongly seen as part of the problem.

HEART DISEASE | FERTILITY | PREGNANCY | BREAST AND OVARIAN CANCER
CERVICAL AND ENDOMETRIAL CANCER | OSTEOPOROSIS
HEADACHES, MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS, AND OTHER NEUROLOGIC DISORDERS | DEPRESSION
EATING DISORDERS | INCONTINENCE | IMMUNE DISORDERS | SLEEP DISORDERS

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