Are you a woman with a chronic, disabling health condition that causes you frequent or constant pain? Do you think that you’re doctor may be treating your pain as if it were primarily psychological in nature, not physical? Or, do you suspect that your doctor simply doesn’t take your pain (and your condition) seriously?
If so, you’re definitely not alone. Roughly half of women patients think that gender discrimination by physicians is a serious issue. (By comparison, only 36% of men think that their doctors may be biased.)
There’s a lot of evidence that women are treated unequally when it comes to getting medical care. Partially, that’s related to the fact that female physiology can be radically different than male physiology, but most medical studies have been performed largely on men. However, another large part of the problem is that women often find themselves being treated for depression or other emotional disorders instead of being treated for their actual condition or pain. As one emergency medicine physician stated, “Women are stigmatized as being anxious.”
Doctors also sometimes fall into the trap of thinking that a condition that doesn’t show up on tests can’t be serious. For example, women suffer disproportionately from hard-to-diagnose autoimmune disorders (which may be related to their stronger immune systems) — yet 40% of women who have autoimmune disorders have been told at least once that they were simply hypochondriacs or over-focused on their health.
The reality is that medical science is always evolving — as are its diagnostic capabilities. Some conditions simply don’t show up well on tests — especially when those diagnostic tools were designed with only men in mind. The problem is that doctors who don’t believe their women patients are a detriment. Their disbelief can interfere with not only a woman’s medical care but how seriously their condition is regarded by others.
If you’re a woman whose condition has become disabling, make sure that you have a doctor who takes you seriously. That could become an important issue when you file for Social Security Disability benefits down the line.