I hear it all the time: Why don’t doctors listen to women? Who would know their own bodies better? Yet time and time again, women tell their doctors how they are feeling only to have the doctors make the leap to diagnosing the women as depressed or overreacting, or give some other dismissive response. Why?
How do we dispel the age-old myths that women are emotional, overreactive and generally unable to describe their own medical conditions? The answer is not a simple one, but it’s critical that we get our message across–because our lives depend on it.
Women having heart attacks often present very differently than men. We don’t experience the classic arm tingling or piercing pain in the chest; sometimes a stomachache or shoulder pain are the warnings signs. If you are experiencing pain that is completely different and out of the norm for you, particularly if the pain is worse with exercise, then go to the ER and announce that you are having a heart attack. Do not be dismissed with an antacid and a wish for your well being.
There are many examples of illnesses that are dismissed by some doctors. I care for patients with Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, and I have heard the most outrageous stories. Women encouraged by their doctors to change the color of their hair, have a makeover, find a new boyfriend or, most often, seek care elsewhere. A disabling and devastating illness is trivialized while patients are given antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications instead of proper evaluation and treatment. It is infuriating and harmful.
If you are suffering from a chronic illness and your doctors are not responding, here’s what you should do: First, make a series of appointment with an appropriate physician so that you can cover all your issues without the doctor feeling rushed or stressed by trying to deal with an overwhelming amount of information in a short amount of time. If the doctor has 7-minute appointments, use the time wisely. Visit One is a get-to-know-you; Visit Two is to deal with your sleep issues, Visit Three your headaches, etc. The doctor will be pleased you understand the time constraints and work with you. If you find you simply cannot communicate or don’t trust your doctor to have your best interests in mind, find another! You have to be your best advocate. Value yourself!
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