Feature Archive

Health and the '90s Woman

How did the last decade shape women's health?

WebMD Feature

The 1970s was a decade in which women became more aware of their bodies and how they worked. The 1980s was a decade of advocacy for diseases like breast cancer. What characterizes this last decade of the century in terms of health care for women?

"In the 1990s we finally recognized that women's health is more than just reproductive health care, and that we need to evaluate, through a gender-specific lens, the other diseases to which women are prone," says Nancy Milliken, MD, director of the Women's Health Center at the University of California at San Francisco.

Heart disease, for example, is the number one killer of women. But for a variety of reasons, women were virtually excluded from studies on heart disease until late in this decade. Researchers assumed that whatever they learned about heart disease in men would be just as true for women. They were wrong. Symptoms of a heart attack can be quite different for women, and the outcome can be far more serious.

The Women's Health Initiative -- a major research study of women and their health -- was launched in 1991 to fill the gaps left by excluding women from so many medical studies. The study's findings on heart conditions in women will be available in 2005.

The Estrogen Factor

"The most interesting thing we've seen in the nineties has been some of the very basic science work that lets us begin to understand just how women are different from men," says Janet Pregler, MD, director of the Iris Cantor UCLA Women's Health Center.