Are Women Being Ignored In Medicine?

At first glance this title might be confusing, so let me drill down a little for you. To rephrase this I would ask, have you gone to the Doctor for an ailment or symptom, eagerly awaiting answers, only to hear, ‘I’m sorry, but the lab work, exam, etc. all came back normal’?”  Then you are sent on your way to deal with your mysterious ailment on your own.


This is becoming more and more prevalent today where the quick 15-minute appointment that our insurance covers for a Doctor visit results in little relief and few answers. The more common outcome from this kind of appointment isreceiving vague recommendations for eating “healthy” and exercising more and learning to de-stress, along with a prescription that might help alleviate symptoms.  Outside of an acute health issue, these recommendations won’t get the average woman the relief or answers she needs.


 More and more we are seeing the medical community put women into a category of “hypochondriacs.” This happens because we keep seeking answers to issues that we are experiencing, but yet the medical community can’t identify, let alone alleviate these issues, with their medications and recommendations. Think about it. If you are going to your healthcare provider again and again for similar or even unrelated issues, and they are unable to provide relief or answers, you can imagine that after a few visits they may be more inclined to treat you as a “problem” and just brush off your complaints as being imaginary or inflated because they can’t actually find a clinically significant cause to tie the issue back to. Worse yet, you may be placed on a medication to address a symptom(s), but this symptom is likely the tip of the iceberg. There may be several underlying issues at hand that just never get addressed because the medical community increasingly ignores female patients. We’re viewed as “more complex cases.” Is this because we are so good at managing symptoms and putting others first that we wait too long to take care of ourselves?


Let me provide some examples of where this is happening all too often.  Lyme disease is a wicked and often debilitating condition. Since the condition can manifest into so many different symptoms, it often takes several visits before a diagnosis is even made, if one is made at all.  Thyroid issues are another diagnosis that often takes several visits to confirm. Since subclinical thyroid issues are so common today, they are often overlooked as the cause of our ailments.  Lastly, gastrointestinal issues (which are too many to list) are another ailment that tends to take several visits, tests, and even drug trials before a proper diagnosis can be made. Unfortunately, there are times when this takes too long, and the patient is then put into the category of being a hypochondriac because the attempts to understand her conditions are long and drawn out. The treatment approaches initially tried aren't offering relief or the testing isn’t providing answers. 


Where can a patient go from here? Does she then start to believe that maybe her issues truly are in her head? Hopefully not! It’s not the patient that has the issue, it’s our current medical system. If you don't fit into the appropriate diagnosis box, you unfortunately fall through the cracks. All while allowing the condition to fester and worsen, making it more and more difficult to uncover the root cause of the issue(s).


So what’s a woman to do? Be strong in our convictions, ask questions, go into your appointments prepared. We must take control of our own health and be our own biggest advocate. As long as we don’t become complacent and accept a “Doctor knows best mentality”, we can improve healthcare not only for ourselves, but for many women, girls, and children who will come after us. Picking a health care provider or practitioner who listens and does a thorough intake is a good place to start. Who’s to say we can’t interview them? Ask them how many clients/patients they have helped with similar symptoms. What is their standard protocol— do they use medication first or are they more geared to lifestyle approaches as their first line of attack? How will they support you during your journey with them, and who else will be involved as far as staff and other services are involved?


 Make sure their answers align with what you want and expect. Know that there are many qualified practitioners who specialize in what you are looking for, the caveat being that you may have to look outside the four walls of a medical office to find them. These practitioners may not have MD, DO, PA, or NP after their name. They may in fact be practitioners who went through similar situations that you are going through and then turned their quest for health and recovery into a passionate career. Health practitioners come from a variety of backgrounds and have various certifications that allow them to work with clients seeking health and answers to their unexplained health issues. Some certifications that are common in this arena are FDN-P, CN, CHHC, and HHP, among others. Finding the right fit for you and your needs is critical, so be sure to see what these practitioners offer and how they can help you put the pieces of your health together again.