As women, we are supremely in touch with our bodies. That's why it's so extremely frustrating when doctors ignore women's health problems and what we say.
Or is it all just a misunderstanding?
Let me open with what happened to Serena Williams during her pregnancy. Now, first of all, we're talking about a woman who's probably more in touch with her body even then the average woman, because she works to physical extremes so much, she has to know exactly where her limits are!!
Because she had a prior health condition, being prone to blood clots, she knew the symptoms. And she had one of the most terrifying things happen to her that any expecting mother can…she felt the symptoms of an embolism.
She was used to taking medicine to thin her blood and fight the clots, but she couldn't take that while pregnant, so that was even more reason for her to believe that a clot was forming now.
So this courageous woman got up out of the hospital bed and left the room so her mom wouldn't worry, and asked the nurse to perform the particular type of CT scan she needed, and to put her on an IV blood thinner. The nurse thought maybe she was just confused, but as she insisted, the nurse agreed to perform an ultrasound on her legs to check for clots.
Serena says she remembered thinking, "This isn't what I ask for, I need an actual CT scan!" As she started feeling terrifyingly worse, and may not have even made it..they finally gave her a full body CT scan, and found that there were a bunch of little blood clots in her lungs!! Ugh!
She's amazing enough that she plays it off as a joke now, saying, "Always listen to Dr. Williams." I feel like I would not be able to look back on it so well and joke about it!!
For every story like this, there are a million more, about how women's health problems are brushed aside…It could "just" be hormones, right??
But does this happen to men at the same rate? Or is there worrying bias at play, that could make women's health problems worse, or even put their life at risk?
Many people agree, yes, and well it's difficult to pinpoint a reason and unfair to say the doctors are sexist, the issue seems to be that women's health problems can be taken for granted, and for whatever reason haven't been studied as long and extensively as men's health problems.
And also, women are more likely to get certain conditions than men are. For example, 3/4 of people with autoimmune diseases are women. But if a doctor doesn't have that frame of mind when a female patient goes to them and suspects it autoimmune disorder, then they may tell her just to "keep an eye on" the problem and her pain.
So then, what's the solution here, when women's health problems aren't taken as seriously? Well, I would say step number one is to continue to advocate for yourself and be confident, like Serena was. If you are sure about your symptoms and have a very strong feeling, don't waver!
As scary as it is to say, it really could be the difference between life and death, especially in the case of something like a heart attack. I wrote an article earlier on how women's heart attack symptoms are different from men's.
My other suggestion would be to, again, like Serena! Arm yourself with knowledge about how women and men have tested differently in studies. Women metabolize drugs differently, studies feature men and women, but most of them fail to take the next step and analyze the differences between the male research subjects and female subjects. So find the studies that do differentiate, that relate to your condition or suspected condition!!
I'm not saying to fight your doctor on everything and get antagonistic, but don't rest until you get an answer from them that you are satisfied with.
I think we can all agree that, whether or not there is actually a problem with bias against female patients…women's health problems are unique and varied.