Gender-bias doctors commonly misdiagnose ‘emotional’ women

“Its all in your head”

How many women have ever been told by a doctor “the pain is in your head,” or “you’re just over-reacting” in response to their medical complaints? What about the thousands of women who are on anti-depressants for a problem unrelated to their current visit, yet the doctor permanently writes them off as “hysterical” or “emotional,” and links every health problem to mental illness? 

Apparently, gender inequalities in medicine are extremely common. Millions of women have been denied proper medical care because their doctor will not take them seriously.  They erroneously conclude that weird symptoms or pain are simply the result depression, hormones, stress or a way to get attention without running additional tests to confirm their diagnosis.  Its no wonder that medical malpractice suits are on the rise.

My personal experience as a “hysterical woman”

I have dealt with panic disorder for most of my life.  For years, I suffered silently because I did not want to be labeled a hypochondriac by my doctors.  However, my OB/GYN suggested that I take anti-anxiety medicine for the first time in my life after the birth of my son in December.  They explained that my hormones would be a little whacko for a while and it would help me deal with the anxiety and stress that naturally comes with motherhood.

During labor, I was torn by the baby and suffered a painful, 4th degree tear.  As my epidural wore off, I was in excruciating pain—to the point I couldn’t even stand to lie in the bed.  It got so bad that I began to cry and paged the nurse for help.

To my surprise, the nurse walked in the room, gave me a condescending look and told me that I was over-reacting and having a panic attack.  She suggested that I get over it or she would red flag me for post-partum depression, and further implied that I would be labeled unfit to take the baby home.   Any mother knows what a big mistake that was.  My post-partum daggers came out and I had to put her in her place. I finally got a new nurse that took me seriously and saw that I was swelling very badly and needed immediate care.

The consequences of gender-bias

My experience as a paralegal at a medical malpractice firm has further exposed me to the blatant disregard that doctors show “emotional” women.  Unfortunately, these women blindly accept any diagnosis that the doctor shoots off, because after all, they aren’t the one with the “M.D.” after their name.  CNN recently featured a story on the “5 Mistakes Women Make At The Doctors Office.”  One of these mistakes was the fact that women do not recognize gender bias and allow doctors to brush off their complaints at the expense of their health.  As a result, they surpress that inner voice telling them that something is not right and they need to get help.

Sadly, by the time these women convince their doctor to refer them to a specialist or get a second opinion, a good majority have found out they were in the last stages of cancer or have experienced permanent injuries that may could have been avoided if treated at an earlier stage.  Now sick, unemployed and nowhere to turn, these women have no choice but to file a malpractice suit and pray that a jury will award them enough money to make ends meat.

So what are we doing wrong ladies?  What are we doing to loose the respect and compassion that we deserve from our doctors?  Do we bother them when we come in with our WebMD print outs on the various diseases that match the symptoms that we see in our children or that we are experiencing ourselves?  Does that fact that we tend to cry when describing our pain cause the doctor to assume we’re just depressed?  Does a chart that shows that we have taken anti-depressants or pain medication for the past few months indicate that our problems must be psychosomatic and we are wasting our doctors time?

Sarcasm aside, gender bias in medicine is a real threat to women everywhere.  I can only suggest that any woman who is currently using a doctor that cuts them off, underestimates their complaints or flat out denies further treatment when you are clearly in pain needs to switch providers immediately.

How to find a doctor that respects you and your body

In choosing a new provider, pay attention to how seriously your complaints are taken by the receptionist and the medical staff that works in the office.  When choosing a doctor, you should review their medical credentials, but also take note of their bedside manner.  If you do not feel comfortable talking to the doctor openly, you are in the wrong place.  Good qualities to look for in a doctor is whether he/she explains to you what they are doing during an exam, whether they encourage questions and dialogue about your symptoms or diagnosis, and whether or not they get angry or offended if you ask to be seen by a specialist.

Bottom line, a women’s instinct does not lie.  You know your child or your body better than anyone else.  If something just doesn’t seem right, chance are its not and you should get a second opinion.  A wasted trip to the doctor is better than a delayed cancer diagnosis or even death.  Remember you are one of hundreds of patients at the doctor’s office.  It’s up to you to be your own “patient advocate” and ensure you are given the respect and care that you deserve.

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