Women Face Unique HealthChallenges During The Pandemic

COVID-19 is continuing to cause serious issues, and one that has gotten a lot of attention is the substantially higher fatality rate in men.[1]

This is a very serious issue, and may be influenced by a wide variety of factors. For example, men are more likely to have chronic diseases that worsen outcomes (such as heart disease, high blood pressure, and liver disease), and have a variety of differences in immune response compared to women.[2][3][4][5]

Part of what we strive to do at is shine a light on health issues that don’t get as much coverage, using peer-reviewed evidence. And over the past month, we haven’t seen much on certain health challenges that disproportionately impact women, and are exacerbated by the pandemic.

Of course, not all these issues are exclusive to women. Rather, women tend to face a higher stress and health burden from them, and rarely are they collectively discussed. Here are a few examples:

1. Invisible illnesses are especially difficult now

An invisible illness is simply a medical condition that isn't easily seen by others. Hence, it’s rare for anyone in your daily life to truly know what you’re going through.

The term usually refers to conditions that significantly impact daily life, and are complex and difficult to treat. Examples include fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, endometriosis, depression, and migraine headache.

Unfortunately, not only are invisible illnesses more prevalent in women, but women’s health concerns are more commonly dismissed at doctor’s offices, such as with chronic pain.[6][7]

Now, with the pandemic ongoing, it can be harder to diagnose and treat already difficult invisible illnesses. It’s not as easy to make doctor’s appointments and get transport to those appointments, and medical costs may be an issue if jobs are impacted.

Those invisible illnesses that occur only in women can be especially tough, because half the population will never be able to relate to those situations. For example, women with endometriosis reported significantly more pain and stress than women with migraine headaches, which is likely influenced by endometriosis not being well-known by society at large.[8]

It’s hard having a condition like endometriosis or fibromyalgia, which nobody can see yet are life-disrupting. But having such a condition during a pandemic is especially difficult because of issues such as medical care considerations, overall stress levels, and limited finances.

2. Care work is underappreciated and stressful

Taking care of just yourself is hard enough. Add these in one or more of these stressors, and mental health can easily spiral downwards:

  • School-age children are at home every day, while you're now working from home every day.

  • You’re taking care of elderly parents, who have chronic conditions that would make COVID-19 complications more severe.

  • Balancing your budget becomes difficult, as income is lower and costs are higher.

  • You’re lacking enough free time and personal space to keep yourself sane.

Nearly 1.4 billion children are out of school or daycare worldwide, and the increased parenting responsibilities can get extremely complicated.[9]

Before the epidemic, research showed that women spend at least 5-10 more hours per week on child and elder care, compared to men[10][11] During the epidemic, those numbers may be even higher. Care work is both under-appreciated and difficult, adding a major source of stress to the lives of women around the world, especially when caring for children or parents with health conditions.