To the women who have been discredited and neglected by the healthcare system, I’m writing this article for you.
In every woman’s life, she will inevitably have a conversation about what being a woman means in regards to her fertility, her reproductive system, and her relationship with men and patriarchal social norms. Some women were fortunate enough to receive proper sex education, while others learned through trial and error. This is a disservice to women who experience higher rates of misdiagnosis than men and whose health is often dependent on factors we cannot control such as our hormones and fertility. One thing that I am certain of is that women’s medicine remains under-researched and underrepresented.
Like many other women, I have been mistreated by the system. I started birth control to relieve my menstrual cramps, and within three months I had a yeast infection that lasted six months. I went to four separate doctors, all of whom offered me conflicting opinions on the cause. The first doctor prescribed me three days’ worth of medication, which was followed by a second round. She suggested I reduce the amount of sugar in my diet and if I still saw no change then perhaps it was my new birth control. The second attributed my yeast infection to my sex life and told me that my birth control was not the cause. The third claimed that I was imagining it, and what I perceived as a yeast infection was my normal vaginal discharge, but said that if I were so concerned I could return at a later date for a vaginal swab. The final doctor also suggested my sex life was to blame and informed me to simply use the cream and return if my symptoms were not relieved. Mind you, all of these doctors were women, and yet none of them were able to provide any true cure for what had become an exhausting vaginal infection.
I am not the only one who has struggled to receive a proper, straightforward diagnosis, nor am I the only woman who has been told she is imagining it. This phenomenon of misdiagnosis and misunderstanding is not uncommon. This is why it is so desperately important that women advocate for themselves and do as much research as the current state of women’s medicine will allow.
To put this into perspective, I’ve included some statistics and information to raise awareness of this issue:
Women will have a 50% higher chance of getting an incorrect diagnosis after a heart attack.
1 in 10 women will have endometriosis, yet the only way to diagnose it is with an invasive procedure known as a laparoscopy.
Research on birth control remains underdeveloped. Undeniably, it has opened pathways for independence and opportunities that women have not had before. However, doctors still prescribe birth control as a solution to medical conditions that may require further diagnosis and care. Those who take it for endometriosis may find that down the road they may not be able to have children because it has gone undiagnosed. Some doctors also disagree on the impacts birth control can have. Some believe that it does contribute to the prevalence of yeast infections and UTIs, while others don’t. They also disagree on whether post-birth control syndrome exists or not.
Up until 1993, women who were of childbearing age were routinely excluded from clinical trials of new drugs that may relieve diseases such as depression and thyroid, diseases that impact women the most. The reason for this was that researchers feared that women’s reproductive cycles and hormonal fluctuations may confound any results they received.
These are all very real scenarios and statistics that women will encounter in their day-to-day lives, and it is detrimental to our health and well-being.
The relationship between women and their bodies is an intimate and complicated phenomenon, yet it continues to be misconstrued, misunderstood, and disregarded. We may applaud the advancements of the past few decades in favor of technological advancements, but it still does not erase the continued neglect that women in the healthcare system face every day. Hopefully, this may serve as a reminder and encouragement for all women to persist and remain aware of our personal power in our ability to demand proper medical care.