Why women are misdiagnosed more often than men
When it comes to medicine, men have an advantage. They are more likely to be listened to, understood, and be given the correct diagnosis in a timely manner. Women are not so lucky. In fact, women are less likely to get the correct diagnosis than men and therefore incorrect treatment and care they need possibly resulting in years of unnecessary suffering with a medical condition before it is finally accurately diagnosed.
Why would women be treated differently? Why does it take so long for a woman to get a correct diagnosis addressing her medical problems? More importantly, what can women so doctors will listen improving their chances of getting an accurate, prompt diagnosis?
Why women struggle with accurate and prompt medical care
The mismatch of medical care between men and women is astonishingly different. It’s only been in the past 25 years, which took a lifting of a law that barred most women from participating in clinical trials and another requiring their inclusion, to have researchers begin to systematically consider how women’s health outcomes differ from men’s.
To understand why so many women have suffered from neglect of medical research and quality care by some physicians, here’s a look at various reasons why women are commonly misdiagnosed:
· Lack of research
Modern medical research has historically centered on men’s health by tradition and statute. For decades, the male body was the standard for health and disease in medical research. It wasn’t until Congress passed a law in 1993 requiring clinical trials studying diseases and treatments to include women as well as men. More recent studies suggest that not nearly enough progress has been made to include women in health research and understand how being a woman affects health.
· Heart disease
Women have a 50% higher chance of getting an incorrect initial diagnosis, even after having a heart attack. They also higher rates of death during hospitalization for heart attacks than men. For women under the age of 50, the disparity is particularly high as they are more than twice as likely to die in the hospital compared to men.
When it comes to stroke, women are about 30% more likely than men to have symptoms of a stroke misdiagnosed and be sent home from the emergency room. Even if they are diagnosed with stroke, they are less likely to receive the clot-busting drug tPA than men.
· Autoimmune Diseases
In the United States, 75% of individuals with autoimmune diseases (multiple sclerosis, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and thyroid disorders) are women. Yet it’s not uncommon to take up to 4.6 years and five doctors for someone with an autoimmune disease to be given a correct diagnosis.
Many doctors fail to take women seriously when they complain about pain. Women are not only less likely to receive aggressive treatment when diagnosed with pain but also are more likely to have their pain dismissed as “emotional” or “not real.”
· Failure of medical schools to view genders differently
Many of the delays and misdiagnoses affecting women can be traced back to how doctors and other health professionals are trained and educated in medical schools. It has been found that only 34% of doctors report that they feel prepared to manage sex and gender differences in health care. Most of the teaching provides unisex medicine. Even research used often focuses on using male participants or animal studies that are done in male animals on diseases that predominantly affect women’s health.
· Failing to recognize different symptoms of the same disease in men and women
In some cases, certain medical conditions can manifest themselves with different symptoms in women and men. For example, chest pain is one of the most commonly reported symptoms of a heart attack in men. But women typically report subtler signs such as fatigue, indigestion, shortness of breath, and pain in the neck, jaw, or arms. Because of these differences, it is not unusual for doctors to attribute these symptoms to other causes like stress or flu, delaying the correct diagnosis.
· The belief, “It’s a woman thing”
If a doctor is trying to figure out a difficult-to-diagnosis condition in a woman, they may just assume it must be a gynecological thing. By automatically presuming a woman complaining of a pain in the abdomen as a gynecological diagnosis, they could miss other possible conditions not related to the female reproductive system that could be causing her symptoms.
How women can improve getting an accurate, prompt diagnosis
· Ask questions – Remember, there are no dumb questions. If you do not understand the treatment a doctor is recommending, ask for more details. Make sure you understand what they are telling you and if you are still to certain, ask them to say it again.
· Keep records – Write down specific details in a journal of your symptoms, what tends to cause them, and what you were doing, eating, or experiencing when they occurred. Also take notes at all medical visits reminding you what was said.
· Be persistent – If you are not satisfied with what a doctor is telling you, seek a second opinion or more until you are. If you feel like your doctor is dismissing your symptoms, look for a new doctor who will take the time to listen and understand what you are telling them.
· Be choosey – If you feel that your doctor is not treating you like a partner in your care, find a new doctor. Ask friends who they like and recommend or healthcare professionals you may know who can make good recommendations.
· Trust your instincts – Women are usually in tune with their body and know it best. When something is not right, see a doctor and tell them what is going on. Don’t doubt yourself, speak up and learn to listen to what your body is trying to tell you.
· Be prepared at all doctor’s visits – Since doctors do work on tight schedules and have limited time to spend with each patient, write down your top three health concerns you want to address with them. Be honest about what concerns you. For example, if you are experiencing persistent headaches that have fear could be signs of a brain tumor, go ahead and voice your worry.