The gender gap in medical diagnosis
Women in Australia generally have much to be grateful for.
While there is still a long way to go to achieve true equality, many of us enjoy greater freedoms than we did even a single generation ago.
Great strides have been made towards equality among people across the gender spectrum, in social, familial, and professional settings.
However, gender bias continues to be a barrier to equal opportunity and wellbeing for women in medical settings.
One in three women have health concerns dismissed by their doctor
A recent study found that women are twice as likely to have health concerns dismissed by their treating physician, with one in three women having symptoms ignored, invalidated or misinterpreted.
This information highlights a trend of women having poorer experiences with health professionals that can have serious mental and physical health consequences.
Further research into this area revealed that women are less likely to feel like their doctor listened to them carefully, respected their opinion, and spent enough time to fully understand their health concerns.
These negative experiences can be a deterrent from seeking healthcare for women, who already face additional barriers to prioritising their health.
Women were also more likely to delay seeking mental health support because of its cost compared to men, perhaps as a result of lesser financial means thanks to the gender pay gap, or a tendency to prioritise the financial and health needs of the family over their own.
Women also receive appropriate and timely pain management at a lesser rate than men, and frequently have serious or chronic pain ignored or dismissed.
It is a concerning trend that highlights how medical research has historically been centred on men’s anatomy and physiology, as well as society’s habit of expecting women to suffer in silence.
Doctors kept telling me I was ‘crazy’
Lee* knows all too well how gender-based medical negligence can cause years of needless suffering, having lived with undiagnosed postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS) and probable Ehler’s Danlos Syndrome (EDS) for two decades.
Lee first sought help for chronic knee pain as a teenager but was told to simply lose weight to alleviate her symptoms, despite being a perfectly average size.
After seeking help from multiple other doctors, all of whom failed to adequately investigate her symptoms, Lee resigned herself to a life constricted by severe knee and back pain.
Following a stint of poor health brought on by a virus, Lee eventually found a practitioner who listened to her and took her symptoms seriously in the form of a physiotherapist.
Lee was diagnosed with a degenerative disc disease which, had it been found earlier, would have had great prospects for timely treatment. As it was, the neglect she had faced in medical settings meant that the damage was now permanent.
“I jumped from doctor to doctor, with them more or less telling me I was crazy every time, and that I just needed to suck it up,” she said.
“I was very ready to give up and just accept that it was in my head.”
With the support of her physiotherapist, Lee continued to seek answers, despite continued disappointment and disrespectful conduct from several doctors who were quick to jump to conclusions based on her physical appearance.
“I’m still seeking a definitive diagnosis of EDS, as it was never officially documented despite being told verbally that was the diagnosis,” said Lee.
“I’m still looking for answers to other symptoms, but I’m burnt out on medical care and having to fight be to believed. I recommend joining online groups for your condition or suspected condition to get recommendations for good doctors.”
Lee still lives with the impacts of permanent damage to her spine and possibly other joints in her body, as well as the huge emotional and physical toll of seeking treatment in a world determined to misunderstand or dismiss women’s pain.