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Management Brief No. 105

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Management eBriefs
Issue 105January 2016

The report is a product of the VA/HSR Evidence Synthesis Program.

Gender Differences in Intervention Effects for High-Impact Conditions among Women Veterans

Women are entering the military at unprecedented rates and comprise a rapidly increasing segment of Veterans Health Administration (VHA) enrollees. In response, the VHA Women's Health Service requested an evidence map to:

  • Identify effective interventions for women,
  • Better understand sex differences in intervention effects for high-impact medical conditions, and
  • Identify gaps in the evidence about the efficacy of interventions in women.

Using a stakeholder-driven approach to identify high-priority conditions and interventions, an initial list of 36 conditions was used to identify 3 for evaluation: depressive disorders, type 2 diabetes mellitus, and chronic pain conditions (chronic low back pain [CLBP], chronic knee osteoarthritis [OA], and fibromyalgia [FM]). Treatments were evaluated in broad categories, including medications, behavioral interventions, supervised exercise, and quality improvement interventions, along with certain condition-specific interventions.

The report was created by the Evidence-based Synthesis Program (ESP) Center at the Durham Veterans Affairs Healthcare System and included evidence from 313 systematic reviews. Among eligible reviews, 268 systematic reviews underwent full data abstraction: 86 addressing interventions for depression, 114 addressing diabetes, and 68 addressing the three chronic pain conditions. A summary of the results is outlined in Table 1.

While there were a large number of systematic reviews included in the evidence, fewer than half summarized the sex distribution of the populations of the included studies, although women were well-represented in the reviews where those data were shown. The authors point out that sex effects were reported in only 10% of eligible reviews, and individual patient data (IPD) meta-analysis—the analysis method best suited to evaluate sex effects—was rarely used (n=16 of 268 abstracted reviews, 6%).

Table 1. Summary of Sex Effects Identified in Systematic Reviews
ConditionPossible differences in treatment effects between men and womenPossible lack of differences in treatment effects between men and women
Depressive disorders Greater improvement in depressive symptoms
CBT, duloxetineaa
SSRIs in older adults

More adverse effects on sexual dysfunction
Depressive symptoms
Antidepressants overall, quality improvement, self-helpa
Combined antidepressant and psychotherapy for dysthymia

Adverse effects overall
Diabetes Fracture risk
Lower for sulfonylureas (compared with thiazolidinediones)
Glycemic control
Linagliptinaa, vildagliptinaa

Weight loss
Bariatric surgery
Chronic painb Greater improvement in CLBP
Quality improvement

a Findings are from IPD meta-analysis.
b Fibromyalgia is not listed because studies predominantly enrolled women. Knee osteoarthritis is not listed because no reviews were identified.
Abbreviations: CBT = cognitive behavioral therapy; CLBP = chronic low back pain; OA = osteoarthritis; SSRI = selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor

The authors also note that while there is a large body of evidence for many of the examined interventions—particularly medications, psychotherapy, and exercise—systematic reviews and primary randomized controlled trials (RCTs) examined sex effects infrequently. When examined, sex effects generally favored greater benefits in women, but the report concludes that differential effects were small and the analysis approaches were often less than ideal. The report suggests that all future RCTs and systematic reviews should identify the proportion of men and women enrolled, and sex effects should be examined in adequately powered RCTs or IPD meta-analyses.

Duan-Porter W, Goldstein K, McDuffie J, Clowse M, Hughes J, Klap R, Masilamani V, Allen LaPointe NM, Williams Jr JW. Mapping the Evidence: Sex Effects in High-impact Conditions for Women Veterans. VA ESP Project #09-009; 2015.

View the full report — **VA Intranet only**:
(copy and paste if you have VA intranet access)

A cyberseminar on "Mapping the Evidence: Sex and Gender Differences in Treatments for Depression, Diabetes, and Chronic Pain" was held on December 9, 2015 and can be accessed 24/7 in the HSR&D cyberseminar archives.

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Read past HSR&D Management e-Briefs on the HSR&D website.

ESP is currently soliciting review topics from the broader VA community. Nominations will be accepted electronically using the online Topic Submission Form. If your topic is selected for a synthesis, you will be contacted by an ESP Center to refine the questions and determine a timeline for the report.

This Management e-Brief is provided to inform you about recent HSR&D findings that may be of interest. The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the position or policy of the Department of Veterans Affairs. If you have any questions or comments about this Brief, please email CIDER. The Center for Information Dissemination and Education Resources (CIDER) is a VA HSR&D Resource Center charged with disseminating important HSR&D findings and information to policy makers, managers, clinicians, and researchers working to improve the health and care of Veterans.


This report is a product of VA/HSR&D's Quality Enhancement Research Initiative's (QUERI) Evidence-Based Synthesis Program (ESP), which was established to provide timely and accurate synthesis of targeted healthcare topics of particular importance to VA managers and policymakers – and to disseminate these reports throughout VA.

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