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Focus on the Female Brain

New Women’s Neurology Center at Northwestern offers integrative treatment, research trials

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September 19, 2012 | by Erin White

CHICAGO --- Conditions that affect the brain can be trickier to treat in women than men. Hormones and reproductive concerns men don’t encounter can influence women’s neurological conditions and courses of treatment, according to a team of Northwestern Medicine neurologists.

To better serve female patients at all stages of life, including pregnancy and menopause, and to advance research in neurological conditions facing women, several Northwestern Medicine neurologists have joined forces to create The Women’s Neurology Center at the Northwestern Medical Faculty Foundation.

The center, one of only a small number of such women-focused neurology centers across the country, opened its doors in September. Patients will have the opportunity to participate in Northwestern Medicine research trials focused on female neurological issues.

Many common conditions that affect the brain are more complicated to treat in women and more research is needed to effectively treat these patients, the neurologists said. Recent research suggests the following:

  • Twenty percent of women suffer from migraines
  • Sleep disorders in women are often overlooked in primary care doctor’s offices
  • Hormones affect seizure frequency in 30 percent of women with epilepsy
  • Women are three times more likely than men to be diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis
  • Medications used to treat neurological disorders may have significant impact on pregnancy and contraception effectiveness
  • Stroke mortality is higher in women, although 30 percent of women are unaware of their stroke risk factors

Female patients will have access to the following Northwestern Medicine neurologists, each with at least one sub-specialty interest in specific neurological conditions:

  • Elizabeth E. Gerard, M.D, epilepsy
  • Yvonne M. Curran, M.D., migraine and stroke
  • Joy A. Derwenskus, D.O., multiple sclerosis
  • Hrayr P. Attarian, M.D., sleep disorders
  • Rama Gourineni, M.D., sleep disorders
  • Jack M. Rozental, M.D., headaches, dizziness

“We’re excited to work with this very unique population that hasn’t really been studied in depth,” Curran said. “Women’s health has been an underappreciated field, but that is changing, and patients who choose to come to this center will be helping to move this field forward.”

The center will incorporate an integrated medicine approach to patient care versus an approach based solely on pharmacology, Curran said. Reproductive health and issues related to women’s hormones are also a focus, Gerard said.

“When a woman is diagnosed with a neurological condition, we need to take her through issues related to contraception, hormones, pregnancy and menopause,” said Gerard. “This takes extra time and expertise that the center is prepared to handle. Younger women need to be educated about how their neurological condition will affect pregnancy and contraceptive choices. Mature women need to be especially cognizant of how their symptoms may change during menopause.”

In addition to their work with The Women’s Neurology Center at the Northwestern Faculty Foundation, Gerard, Curran and Derwenskus are assistant professors of neurology at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine. Attraian, Gourineni and Rozental are associate professors of neurology at Feinberg. All are attending physicians at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Call to schedule an appointment: (312) 695-1962

Topics: University