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Wired to Women's Needs

May 03, 1999|Marla Bolotsky

Did you know that women wake up from anesthesia an average of four minutes faster than men do? That certain drugs have a dramatically different effect on women than men? That you should push back, but not trim, your cuticles to prevent fungus or infection to your fingernails?

In the not-so-distant past, women's health often was an afterthought. Medical research often used only male test subjects, even when the condition or treatment may have affected women differently. But now medical researchers increasingly are focusing on women's health and their unique needs. And an ever-expanding number of Web sites are targeting women's health.

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One such site is run by the Society for the Advancement of Women's Health Research (http://www.womens-health.org). The group, founded in 1990, has been working to ensure that women are included in medical research and clinical trials and that research into "women's diseases" is adequately funded.

This site is easy to navigate and conveniently links you to other sources of information.

One of the most interesting features of the site is the Health Facts and Links area, which provides easy-to-digest information on important topics such as domestic violence, eating disorders, menopause and cancer.

The site also reports on policy issues of interest to the group and provides information about ongoing clinical trials.

The American Medical Women's Assn. Web site, http://www.amwa-doc.org, includes a great feature: excerpts from the association's "Women's Complete Healthbook" that touch on many areas of concern.

Who isn't worried about aging skin, hair and nail care? Or perhaps eye care (contact lenses, cosmetic application and sun exposure) is of more interest? I learned, for example, that the iridescent particles in frosted eye shadow can attach to contacts and scratch the cornea.

All this information from "Women's Complete Healthbook" can be found in the site's Health Topics section. Other topics include "How Stress Affects the Body," "Keeping the Endocrine System Healthy," "How to Prevent Digestive Problems" and "Strategies for Improving Your Emotional Health."

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Two more sites I recommend are the National Women's Health Resource Center (http://www.healthy.women.org) and the National Women's Health Information Center (http://www.4woman.gov). Despite the similar names, the two sites offer different features.

Healthywomen.org, based in New Jersey, is a not-for-profit national clearinghouse for women's health information. Its medical and corporate advisory boards have a diverse membership, including physicians from top medical institutions and representatives from Fortune 500 companies.

Healthywomen.org covers hundreds of topics in its question-and-answer section. I'm obsessing about wrinkles these days and so was intrigued by information on Retin-A, the acne cream. But more serious questions are explored, such as the arguments for and against removing the ovaries during a hysterectomy.

On the same site, Women's Links lets you choose your topic, read a short paragraph about it, then link to a list of other common Web resources. Under the diabetes topic, I found six leads for other sites to investigate.

The National Women's Health Information Center Web site (http://www.4woman.gov) is a project of the U.S. Public Health Service's Office on Women's Health. Although more difficult to navigate than healthywomen.org, it provides more in-depth information and a greater number of links to other sites. If you're willing to poke around here, you'll strike gold. I clicked on "Selected Health Information"--not a very descriptive title--and found links to medical dictionaries and journals, women's health legislation pending in Congress, and more. This government-sponsored site includes a news section, a section for women of color and information in Spanish, which broadens its appeal.

This site also has a monthly guest editor column, with writers from publications like Woman's Day and McCall's, on topics ranging from autoimmune diseases to having a stroke in your 40s.

I like the fact that the site provides a phone number ([800] 994-WOMAN, 6 a.m. to 3 p.m.) for assistance or additional women's health information. Help is available in Spanish too.

When I navigated my way to the "Menopause Resource Guide," I was at first impressed by the seemingly exhaustive list of organizations, government agencies, newsletters, magazines and reports. But, after reading the fine print, I realized that the listings weren't exclusive to menopause, but also included lots of stuff on aging. I found this a bit misleading and typical of the rough navigating on this site.

Oh well, surfing this site is like shopping at a large discount store (or surfing the Web unassisted): You have to look hard for the good stuff.

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Marla Bolotsky is managing editor and director of online information for the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. She can be reached by e-mail at marla.bolotsky@latimes.com.

* Your Health Online runs every other Monday in Health.

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