Older lesbian and bisexual women are more likely to suffer from chronic health problems than their straight counterparts, according to a new study in American Journal of Public Health.
Researchers at the University of Washington examined CDC data for 33,000 adults over the age of 50, and found that strokes, heart attacks, asthma, arthritis and other problems were significantly more prevalent among gay/bi women that heterosexuals. (Transgender women were not included in the study.)
The study also uncovered that 53% of older gay/bi women experienced lower back pain, versus just under 40% of heterosexual women, and were more likely to drink excessively ad have trouble sleeping.
This is the first study to use national population-based data to evaluate differences in health outcomes and behaviors for older LGBT adults. Researchers took data from the National Health Interview Survey in 2013, the first year the survey asked respondents about their sexual orientation.
While the study didn’t postulate the causes of the health discrepancies, other research has pointed to discrimination and ostracization as fueling poor health and health choices. Queer women are also less likely to be partnered, meaning illnesses and warning signs are more likely to go unnoticed.
“The strong predictors of poor health are discrimination and victimization,” says UW social work professor Karen Fredriksen-Goldsen. “Most people think gay and bisexual men would have more adverse health effects, because of the HIV risk. [But] lesbian and bisexual women tend to be more invisible and are less often considered when it comes to health interventions. This is a population that isn’t getting the attention it deserves.”
Looking at health outcomes for older gay and bi men, researchers found that nearly 7% experienced chest pains related to heart disease, compared to just 4.8% of heterosexual men. And gay/bi seniors, both male and female, are more likely to have immune-system problems, as well.
There is some good news, though: The study also found that gay and bi seniors are more likely to engage in preventative health care, including regular HIV testing and high-blood-pressure screenings.