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Medical gaslighting and how it affects women

Isabella Santoro

Staff Writer

Photo by Pexels.com

Doctors are known to help, not hinder, yet it feels like this isn’t always the case. Unfortunately, not everyone leaves the doctor’s office feeling assisted. It’s become a large issue all over the world, especially here in the United States. A term known as “medical gaslighting” has been coined in the last few years for doctors and medical professionals who gaslight their patients into thinking their concerns are either not concerning or different altogether.


Medical gaslighting entails a doctor making their patient question whether they have an illness or if it’s as severe as the patient thinks it may be. It can happen when a doctor or medical professional dismisses concerns or when a doctor tries to tell their patient that something else is going on when it’s not, or is in fact, the opposite problem. This can cause very harmful issues further down the road. Although it can happen to everyone regardless of who they are, it happens more often to women and people of color. Especially in terms of women, they are told they are either going through a symptom of PMS or there is something regarding their mental health. This is not always necessarily true. Women can experience this by having longer wait times in hospitals than men. This gender bias and gaslighting is extremely harmful for women and feels like a complete step in the opposite direction than the way we as a society should be going in terms of health care. The world is changing and expanding and we need to learn and grow with it. This includes gender bias in the medical field.


This kind of gaslighting and dismissal of key issues in women’s health has led to many mishaps over the years. Often, women have complained about the misdiagnosis of endometriosis and heart diseases simply because of their gender. A 2022 survey even showed that about 71 percent of women were told that their symptoms were imagined. This was told to them by a physician. This is a staggering number of women and is something that so many of us women experience on a daily basis. Mental and physical health are extremely important, especially right now when times are much harder and we’re going into a recession. Health is more important now than ever and patients need to rely on their medical professions. How can women rely on professionals if they dismiss their very real concerns? If their concerns are not met, these women end up facing serious issues that they may not be able to recover from. A misdiagnosis or a dismissal of symptoms can lead to death or other severe issues going forward that could have been prevented entirely.


In personal experience, this has happened to me numerous times, in regards to both my mental and physical health. It has taken a huge toll on me trying to get help or a diagnosis. It affects every aspect of life. It’s frustrating not being listened to and I am left feeling worse than before I talked to a doctor. I’m not the only woman experiencing this. It costs money to see doctors as there are often copays. It seems unfair for women to pay these fees to see doctors or pay for their insurance for said doctor and see no results. It’s not only a waste of time but of money and something needs to be done about it. Especially in this economy, women can’t afford to pay out of pocket for their insurance for nothing to be done for them. Costs are expensive and only rising for copays and insurance. It’s upsetting and costly for many.


One explanation of the reason why women are less treated than men and taken less seriously is not only because of sexism and gender bias but because there is a lack of medical research on women versus men. A women’s health study from 2022 states that in 86 trials, only 37 percent were women. Shouldn’t that number be at least half? It doesn’t make sense when less than half of those tested are women when women cover half the population. At the same time, presentation for illnesses differs for men and women and this is something that also needs to be clearly researched and tested for women to get the answers and care they deserve. They should be treated equally when it comes to concerns but at the same time, because women and men present symptoms differently, this research needs to actually reflect acceptable statistics of women. If we start to get answers and better research, there can come a time where women’s issues are taken seriously all the time and not just when it's convenient. I fear for us women in coming generations with this medical gaslighting.


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