Two patients arrive at the ER with severe stomach pain. One is a woman and the other is a man. The woman waited for more time than the man, despite having the same symptoms. According to a study published in Academic Emergency Medicine, women who went to the ER with similar symptoms as men had to wait for 33% longer for medical attention. This is medical gaslighting.
It’s just hormones!
Women on average face more medical gaslighting than men and this trend can be seen throughout different medical fields too. Their health concerns are noted as mental health problems and hormones rather than actual concerns. They’re told their pain is psychosomatic rather than addressing the situation. Dr. Stephanie McNalley acknowledges that hormones do affect a woman’s body but they aren’t the root cause, and you can definitely combat their effects. Furthermore, Dr. Robert Duarte believes that “Hormones are overemphasized when it comes to women and chronic pain”. How much is a woman’s pain caused by hormones? Why should that affect a doctor’s response?
To be frank, it shouldn’t. A doctor has the duty and responsibility of meeting all of their patients’ needs and validating their concerns. Gaslighting and downplaying a concern roots a lack of trust in the doctor and patient relationship, along with a patient’s misjudgment of potentially dangerous symptoms. In a larger analysis of the situation, it’s evident that medical gaslighting can greatly affect a patient’s health due to misdiagnosis. For example, Dr. Tia Powell recalls her experience in which she had lost a couple of pounds and thought it could be the recurrence of a past illness. Her doctor had claimed it was not a past illness and due to her diet, which Powell never stated. Indeed, Dr. Powell was correct and it was a past illness that had reappeared. This is just one example of gaslighting that women have faced in healthcare.
What Should Women Do?
If a woman feels like her concerns are being gaslighted, there are some important actions they should take. First of all, ask your doctor the reasoning and basis for their recommendation, whether it be for medication or for waiting until further symptoms. By asking for guidelines and reasoning that are mostly data-driven, it is helpful in understanding a doctor’s prescription. The best option is to seek a second opinion from another medical professional on the situation, or get referred to a specialist who will be able to further assess the problem. Multidisciplinary specialist centers can help reduce gaslighting as the vast range of professionals can limit the extent to which a woman’s symptom is labeled as emotional.
Remember to not dismiss your concerns as they are valid!
“When Doctors Downplay Women’s Health Concerns (Published 2018).” The New York Times, 2021, www.nytimes.com/2018/05/03/well/live/when-doctors-downplay-womens-health-concerns.html. Accessed 17 Aug. 2021.
“Gaslighting in Women’s Health: No It’s Not Just in Your Head.” Katz Institute for Women’s Health, 2011, www.northwell.edu/katz-institute-for-womens-health/articles/gaslighting-in-womens-health. Accessed 17 Aug. 2021.