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August 2022

Women’s Health Concerns Often Go Ignored

Compared with male patients, women who present with the same condition may not receive the same healthcare. In recent years, this has been found to happen with everything from skin conditions to neck pain to heart disease.

Exploring gender bias

For a long time, medical research was largely focused on men. That means that a lot of what we know about symptoms and treatments for certain conditions are based on the way men typically experience them.

Take heart attacks, for example. Women are more likely to have “nontraditional” symptoms than men. These include:

  • Pain in the neck, back, jaw, or throat

  • Heartburn

  • Nausea or vomiting

  • Indigestion

  • Extreme fatigue

  • Shortness of breath

This means healthcare providers are not always as quick to spot heart attacks in women as they are in men.

A source of pain

Pain is another area where women can be at a disadvantage in finding answers. A review of 77 medical studies found that women who report pain can be perceived as hysterical, emotional, complaining, not wanting to get better, and making up the pain. Women with chronic pain report that it’s often a struggle for their providers to take them seriously.

When women feel providers downplay their pain, it can add to their stress levels—potentially worsening their condition.

How to be heard

If you’re a woman experiencing a medical issue, how can you make sure you’re really listened to? Try these strategies:

  • If you feel your symptoms are being dismissed, ask, “What might this be? What should I do if the symptoms get worse?” That can get your health care provider to stop and think about the options.

  • Write down what you want to tell your provider and explain your symptoms quickly and clearly. Organizing your thoughts beforehand can help make sure you include what’s most important.

  • Don’t be afraid to ask for a referral to a specialist or get a second opinion. Another provider may be more experienced with the symptoms you have.

  • Keep asking questions and speak up when you don’t feel like you’re being heard.

  • If your concerns continue to go ignored, find another healthcare provider. While providers are busy, they should always have time to listen to you. Any medical provider you visit should feel like your partner in care.

 

Online Medical Reviewer: Brian McDonough, MD
Online Medical Reviewer: Ray Turley, MSN, BSN
Date Last Reviewed: 6/1/2022
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