Women use more prescription drugs then men, but they are less likely to be prescribed according to clinical guidelines and are not as good at adhering to the medications they are prescribed, a new US study finds.

Women of all ages in the US use an average of five medications, compared to less then four for men, and during the study period 68% of women took at least one chronic or acute medication compared to 59% of men. This higher average persisted even after accounting for prescription contraceptives, according to the research, which was conducted by pharmacy benefit manager (PBM) Medco Health Solutions and the Society for Women's Health Research.

However, women were found to be overall less adherent than men and not prescribed treatments in alignment with recommended guidelines as often.The differences were most dramatic among patients with cardiovascular disease and diabetes, where women showed poorer outcomes than men in 25 out of 25 clinical measures.

One reason for women's poorer compliance with taking medicines as prescribed could be due to the fact that they are often prescribed drugs with guidelines and dosing based on research conducted predominantly on male subjects, the researchers suggest.

"It has long been demonstrated that there are physiological differences in women that affect their absorption and metabolism of medications, but this knowledge has not yet been widely translated into gender-specific dosing," said Amy Steinkellner, national practice leader at Medco Women's Health Therapeutic Resource Center. 

"To improve clinical care, avoid misdosing and potentially avoidable side effects in women, it is critical to consider gender in every aspect of drug development and management, from research and reporting of results all the way through to a personalised medicine management plan," she stressed.

The study found particularly significant differences between men and women in the use of medication, monitoring and management tools for diabetes - even though more than half of those living with the condition in the US are women -  and cardiovascular disease, which is the number one killer of women in the US.

Use of cholesterol-reducing medication in the presence of coronary artery disease was seen in only 59% of women, compared with 71.5% of men, while 63% of women were found to be using beta blockers following a heart attack, compared to 69% of men.