Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

UC Berkeley

UC Berkeley Previously Published Works bannerUC Berkeley

Sex differences in pharmacokinetics predict adverse drug reactions in women



Women experience adverse drug reactions, ADRs, nearly twice as often as men, yet the role of sex as a biological factor in the generation of ADRs is poorly understood. Most drugs currently in use were approved based on clinical trials conducted on men, so women may be overmedicated. We determined whether sex differences in drug pharmacokinetics, PKs, predict sex differences in ADRs.


Searches of the ISI Web of Science and PubMed databases were conducted with combinations of the terms: drugs, sex or gender, pharmacokinetics, pharmacodynamics, drug safety, drug dose, and adverse drug reaction, which yielded over 5000 articles with considerable overlap. We obtained information from each relevant article on significant sex differences in PK measures, predominantly area under the curve, peak/maximum concentrations, and clearance/elimination rates. ADRs were identified from every relevant article and recorded categorically as female-biased, male-biased, or not sex-biased.


For most of the FDA-approved drugs examined, elevated blood concentrations and longer elimination times were manifested by women, and these PKs were strongly linked to sex differences in ADRs. Of the 86 drugs evaluated, 76 had higher PK values in women; for 59 drugs with clinically identifiable ADRs, sex-biased PKs predicted the direction of sex-biased ADRs in 88% of cases. Ninety-six percent of drugs with female-biased PK values were associated with a higher incidence of ADRs in women than men, but only 29% of male-biased PKs predicted male-biased ADRs. Accessible PK information is available for only a small fraction of all drugs CONCLUSIONS: Sex differences in pharmacokinetics strongly predict sex-specific ADRs for women but not men. This sex difference was not explained by sex differences in body weight. The absence of sex-stratified PK information in public records for hundreds of drugs raises the concern that sex differences in PK values are widespread and of clinical significance. The common practice of prescribing equal drug doses to women and men neglects sex differences in pharmacokinetics and dimorphisms in body weight, risks overmedication of women, and contributes to female-biased adverse drug reactions. We recommend evidence-based dose reductions for women to counteract this sex bias.

Many UC-authored scholarly publications are freely available on this site because of the UC's open access policies. Let us know how this access is important for you.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View