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Medical gaslighting: A crisis for women

Is it your weight, your hormones or all in your head? These three options seem to be the “go-to” diagnoses for a lot of women every time they visit their doctor with any kind of complaint.

Lately, there’s been a lot of discussion about the emotionally traumatic – and sometimes physically devastating – effects of what has become known as “medical gaslighting,” especially as it affects women.

Why don’t doctors believe women when they describe their symptoms?

Essentially, to understand how the problem has developed, you need to understand that medical biases around women have deep-seated roots. Male doctors controlled the narrative around medicine – along with all the research – for so long that those biases have become systemic. For much of modern history, most of the research into common medical conditions, including heart disease, has centered around male patients, who can present with very different symptoms than women.

Even the word “hysteria” comes from the Greek word for “uterus,” and the mindset that women are prone to imaginary conditions or exaggeration. They’re also often told that their pain or other problems are simply something that women have to endure because it’s all hormone-related.

How bad is this for women? Consider this: Endometriosis is a condition that can only affect women, and it affects approximately one in 10. Yet, it often takes women between eight and 12 years to get a doctor to listen to them and give them proper care.

Experts say that real change won’t happen until the problems in the system are addressed, but women can take steps to protect themselves from medical mistakes and a provider’s intentional or unintentional gaslighting by:

  • Choosing their providers carefully, whenever possible. Use online reviews and read them to look for patterns. One or two complaints shouldn’t alarm you, but reviews from women who say a doctor didn’t listen or dismissed their concerns should raise red flags.
  • Being assertive when concerns are dismissed. It can be uncomfortable to challenge a doctor’s opinion, but women shouldn’t be afraid to ask for tests to rule out specific concerns. If they’re denied, they should ask the provider to document the denial and their reasoning.
  • Getting second opinions. Not all doctors are alike. If a provider isn’t listening or is dismissive, it’s time to start looking for someone else.

Medical errors are a serious health concern for all women. If you have suffered because of a doctor’s mistakes, it’s only wise to find out more about your legal options.