If you’ve ever gone to the doctor and felt like your concerns about your health weren’t taken seriously, you already know how frustrating and disheartening it feels. Of course, not all medical professionals do this, but there are some common female medical problems that are overlooked and under-diagnosed all too frequently.
“Health issues that are easily overlooked in women tend to have a common thread,” Dr. Lucky Sekhon, reproductive endocrinologist, tells Romper. “They're not associated with obvious outward signs or symptoms and the doctor must rely on listening to the patient's subjective complaints and concerns.” These may include chronic fatigue, ADHD, autoimmune disorders, and even heart issues. If you feel like your doctor isn't listening to you, it could be simply that you need a longer appointment. “One of the reasons women aren't heard is because their visit to their doctor doesn't allow for enough time to root out the true cause [of their issue],” Kristen Burris, LAc., M.S.T.O.M., Licensed Acupuncturist and Master Traditional Chinese Herbalist tells Romper. To figure out the root cause, it can take several visits, many labs, and investigative patience, she explains.
If even after multiple appointments, you still have a feeling that something is wrong, follow your gut and keep pushing for answers. It can be helpful to write down your thoughts before your appointment, or “practice what you're going to say ahead of time to train yourself not to discount or downplay your feelings or concerns,” Sarah Christopherson, Policy Advocacy Director with National Women's Health Network tells Romper. She adds that while it’s not always feasible to switch doctors, if yours isn't taking your concerns seriously, that can be the best option.
"I always remind women that they are the biggest piece of their healthcare," Dr. Angela Jones, OB/GYN, tells Romper. "Find someone else who will address your needs and provide you with the care you deserve." Read on for 6 diagnoses that are often overlooked in women.
1. Autoimmune diseases
Autoimmune diseases happen when the body accidentally attacks its own cells, and according to Hopkins Medicine there are over 80 types. "Autoimmune diseases are frequently dismissed or overlooked, at least initially, because the first symptom is often extreme fatigue and because most don't have a specific test, which gives doctors with implicit bias lots of room to assume that a patient is just 'upset' or 'stressed' and not really sick," Christophersen tells Romper. It can take years to get a proper diagnosis for Lupus and other autoimmune diseases.
2. Chronic Fatigue
Many people feel tired, but extreme or chronic fatigue syndrome goes beyond the normal tiredness and may include dizziness, extreme exhaustion, and trouble concentrating, per The Office On Women's Health.
Many women who are struggling with chronic fatigue are given a misdiagnosis of anxiety or depression, then are wrongfully prescribed an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication, as Burris explains to Romper.
"Quite literally women are suffering in the millions, many of whom are not depressed or anxious but they actually have myalgic encephalomyelitis (ME), or chronic fatigue syndrome." She adds that other oft-overlooked diagnoses that cause intense fatigue include, "chronic Lyme disease, reactivated Epstein Barr virus, subclinical hypothyroidism (where you labs are normal but your thyroid is not functioning at optimal levels) and adrenal fatigue, not to be confused with adrenal disease."
Women's pain, "whether it be due to menstrual cramps, painful sex, or pain of some unknown etiology," as Jones tells Romper, is often not taken seriously.
"A number of studies have revealed that doctors are also less likely to take women's pain seriously than men's pain, and that the effect is even more pronounced for black women and other women of color. Pelvic pain associated with endometriosis or fibroids, for example, can be dismissed for years as a 'normal' part of the menstrual process before being correctly diagnosed," Christopherson tells Romper. She adds that health care providers' impulse to dismiss both fatigue and pain is often even worse if patients are women with excess weight. "These women are often shamed to diet and exercise before their underlying health conditions are pursued," she says.
4. Heart attacks
The symptoms of heart attacks in women can be slightly different than those in men. While most sexes are likely feel chest pain and discomfort, "women are more likely than men to experience some of the other common symptoms, particularly shortness of breath, nausea [and] vomiting, and back or jaw pain," per the American Heart Association.
"Doctors are much less likely to correctly diagnose and treat heart attacks in women than men, even sending women home from the hospital in the middle of an attack," Christopherson tells Romper, and shockingly, it's estimated that doctors miss heart attacks in women as much as 50% of the time, per Healthline.
5. Irregular Menstrual Cycles
Irregular period may indicate the something larger is happening in the body, yet many women are told that an unpredictable cycle is normal.
"Irregular periods, whether due to polycystic ovary syndrome or other hormonal imbalances, can often go ignored, especially if a women is not trying to get pregnant," Sekhon tells Romper. Many women will often feel that their complaint is not being heard or taken seriously. "Patients with delayed diagnosis have told me they were told their symptoms were 'all in their head' and attributed to stress or anxiety," Sekhon adds.
Remember that you know your body best, better than any medical professional ever will. If you feel like your health concerns are not being taken seriously, it may be time for a candid conversation with your doctor, and if that doesn't work, it's time to find a new doctor who will work with you to find answers.
Kristen Burris, LAc., M.S.T.O.M., Licensed Acupuncturist and Master Traditional Chinese Herbalist
Sarah Christopherson, Policy Advocacy Director with National Women's Health Network
Dr. Angela Jones, OB/GYN
Dr. Lucky Sekhon, reproductive endocrinologist and infertility specialist, OB/GYN
Hoffmann, Diane E. and Tarzian, Anita J., (2001). The Girl Who Cried Pain: A Bias Against Women in the Treatment of Pain. Journal of Law, Medicine & Ethics http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.383803