Neurology center focuses on women's brain

October 18, 2012 8:31:49 PM PDT
If you are a woman suffering from headaches to sleep issues and you have been told it's all in your head, it may be true.

There is emerging proof that neurological conditions can affect women and men differently.

Modern medicine is slowly coming around to the realization that men and women can experience many diseases differently and conditions affecting the brain are getting new scrutiny.

Women seem to be more susceptible to certain neurological disorders, which can be trickier to treat, which is why some centers are taking action.

The female brain and the male brain look a lot alike and, for the most part, function similarly.

But inside there are some gender differences.

Women, it turns out, are more susceptible to certain neurological conditions such as multiple sclerosis or migraines.

"There was a lot of pain and mostly it was in front of my face."

When it comes to sleep disorders, women are also more likely to be misdiagnosed.

The main culprit researchers say are fluctuating hormones.

"The reality is hormones have a huge effect on many diseases but certainly neurological diseases," said Northwestern Medicine neurologist Dr. Yvonne Curran.

That means diagnosis and treatment can be complicated for women.

Brain specialists in the Chicago area have joined forces to form the Women's Neurology Center at Northwestern.

The goal is to help female patients through all stages of life, from pregnancy to menopause.

It joins a small but growing number of neurology centers focusing on the female brain and conditions including headaches, stroke, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis and sleep disorders.

"For example, it takes women two times as long to be properly diagnosed with sleep apnea than it takes a man," said Dr. Hrayr Attarian, also a neurologist from Northwestern Medicine.

Researchers also say women are more likely to be misdiagnosed with depression instead of a sleep issue.

"They often say it's the depression casing the insomnia which most often is the other way around."

Elizabeth Heltzer is seeking help for her insomnia before it gets out of control.

"I want the energy back," she said. "I want the days to be better and I want that help."

Doctors insist this is not about marketing, but smarter medicine.

Specialists say they will collaborate to better diagnose and treat patients. Advancing research is also the plan.

For Cristi Kempf, it was about the non-stop headaches she thought were sinus infections.

For years she says her primary care doctors agreed.

Recently, she discovered her skull-pounding pain was actually caused by migraine headaches and with the right diagnosis and medication, she is doing better.

"It's a relief and it's also a relief to have a place that's welcoming and for women," Kempf said.

Northshore University Health System also has a women's neurology program.


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