Doctors May Take a Woman's Pain Less Seriously—Do You Agree?

Updated 07/26/17
@brooketestoni

Sexism and the workplace have a long, sordid history, but gender bias in the doctor's office is a bit of a new frontier. While at this point, most of the evidence is admittedly anecdotal, the similarities tell a story of their own: The countless misdiagnoses, the years-long search for acknowledgment, and the prescription known as "the problem is all in your head," are far too common among women.

While Los Angeles Times writer Emily Dwass is the latest to speak out about her four-year-long journey to get diagnosed with a nonmalignant brain tumor, a condition that disproportionately affects women, her experience is far from singular. Endometriosis, which only affects women, is another extremely painful illness plagued by skepticism; on average, it takes 7.5 years for a woman to receive a firm diagnosis, and that's if they ever get diagnosed at all.

As Lena Dunham, an endometriosis sufferer, puts it, "[It's] is not life-threatening. It doesn't manifest externally very often. But I also know that I am one of many women who grasp for a sense of consistent well-being … and who are often met with skepticism by doctors trained to view painful periods as the lot of women who should learn to grin and bear it."

In the life-threatening category, we have heart disease and stroke. Despite the fact that heart disease is the leading cause of death among women, "many women say their physicians never talk to them about coronary risk and sometimes don't even recognize the symptoms, mistaking them instead for signs of panic disorder, stress, and even hypochondria," writes Harvard Health Publications in a paper titled "Gender Matters: Heart Disease Risk in Women." Similarly, a 2014 study from Johns Hopkins found that women having a stroke were 30% more likely to be misdiagnosed in the emergency room than men.

The "why" behind all of this is even more complex. Dwass surmises that "doctors may fail to appreciate their female patients' symptoms in part because medical research has historically focused on men." Others, like Atlantic editor Joe Fassler, believe doctors simply take women's pain less seriously, as it may be "perceived as constructed or exaggerated," which is a conclusion he drew after watching his wife deal with the excruciating pain of an ovarian torsion for hours in the emergency room. Whatever the case may be, one thing is clear: This bias may pose a threat to women's health.

What are your thoughts on gender bias in regard to medical assistance and health? Have you or a loved one ever experienced this? Share your opinion below.

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