In 2018, Serena Williams spoke out about her harrowing childbirth experience in which she nearly died. Had the tennis superstar not known her body as well as she did and advocated for doctors to listen to her, she might not be here today. Furthermore she highlighted something that is rarely spoken about, but not all that surprising — doctors aren’t listening to women, especially Black women.
The US has an absurdly high maternal mortality rate compared to the rest of the developed world and in recent years, a growing number of maternal health-focused organizations and academics have dedicated more time and resources to better understand the crisis.
But numbers aside this doesn’t end at maternal health — women’s health is widely disregarded around the world.
One woman, Lina Kharnak told Health magazine that when she told her doctor she thought she had endometriosis, he said, ‘stop practising Google Medicine’. It’s infuriating but female patients are continuously gaslighted about their physical and mental health.
Whether it’s heart disease labeled as anxiety, an autoimmune disorder attributed to depression, or ovarian cysts chalked up to “normal period pain,” many women’s health issues are likely to be misdiagnosed or dismissed by doctors as something less critical. One study published in Academic Emergency Medicine found that women who went to the ER with severe stomach pain had to wait for almost 33% longer than men with the same symptoms.
So why is this happening? The Katz Institute for Women’s Health breaks down this topic for us. They say that psychological and social influences could contribute to women being gaslighted.
For example, men have a tendency to be more vocal and more persistent with their concerns. Women may have a harder time pushing back and advocating for themselves. They feel like they need to be good patients, which means accepting what their doctors tell them. But by doing so, they’re stripping themselves of a voice.
They also break down the misinformation when it comes to hormonal health. Their work has shown that while hormones contribute to changes in a woman’s body, they’re usually not the root cause of a lot of health problems. Wait…what?!
Well, we’ve all experienced it. There’s still such a tendency among providers to blame things on hormones. If a woman is angry, she’s hormonal. If she gains weight, it’s because she’s going through perimenopause. Yes, as your estrogen levels go down during menopause, your body will start storing more peripheral fat—but there are things women can do to help combat this, like eating a healthy diet and taking up strength training. In other words, hormones affect us, but we’re not at their mercy.
So what can you do?
If you feel like your physician isn’t giving you adequate time or answers, seek a second opinion or ask them to refer you to a specialist.
If you disagree with your doctor, say so. Write down all your symptoms in a log or journal and show it to your physician to see if the two of you can figure out the bigger picture. If you’re ignored—for example, your doctor refuses to brainstorm with you or won’t run more tests—get a second opinion. Remember, you know your body best. If something bothers you, you need to speak up for yourself. You deserve to find a doctor that you can trust—one who genuinely listens to your concerns and delivers the best care possible.