Men and women recover differently after surgery

March 22, 2001

Sex differences in speed of emergence and quality of recovery after anaesthesia: cohort study

Women emerge more quickly than men from general anaesthesia, but have a slower return to former health after surgery, according to a study in this week's BMJ.

Researchers at Alfred Hospital in Australia studied 241 men and 222 women for three days after undergoing surgery to identify differences in the quality of recovery between the sexes. They found that women emerged significantly more quickly than men from general anaesthesia but overall quality of recovery was worse. Women had a 25% slower rate of return to their preoperative health status and were more likely to have minor postoperative complications, such as nausea and vomiting, headache, backache and sore throat.

Underlying physiological differences between men and women may help to explain these findings, say the authors. For example, postoperative nausea and vomiting has been related to the phase of the menstrual cycle and women have a higher incidence of migraine and tension headaches generally (a risk factor for postoperative headache). Postoperative backache may also be attributed to anatomical differences between men and women.

Such differences, which have previously received limited attention, are genuine and important, they conclude.

Paul S Myles, Head of Research, Department of Anaesthesia and Pain Management, Alfred Hospital, Prahran, Victoria, Australia Email:


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