You're Not Overreacting: So Why Is Your Doctor Acting Like You Are?

The number one most important thing in any collegiette’s life should be their health and wellbeing. Unfortunately for women, their pain can sometimes be written off or dismissed. Joe Fassler documents this with an experience he had with his wife, Rachel. She felt the extreme pain of an overgrown ovarian cyst, the size of which twisted her fallopian tube and, in many cases, can cause death.

In this intense pain, she was brought to the emergency room, where nurses and doctors told her that she probably just had kidney stones. They let her writhe in pain on her cot for hours, thinking she was just being overdramatic. Nurses told her not to cry, the doctor left for the day before she was thoroughly checked out, and to even receive an analgesic for her pain Rachel had to wait nearly two hours. The average wait time for men with abdominal pain is 49 minutes while women’s is 65.

In fact, the male doctor was so sure in his assumption that Rachel suffered from kidney stones that when Fassler flagged down the young woman that took the doctor’s place to look at his wife’s file, she revealed that he had never looked over Rachel’s test results or did an exam whatsoever.

A study called “The Girl Who Cried Pain” identifies the gender bias present in pain management on a clinical level and reports that women are “more likely to be treated less aggressively in their initial encounters with the health-care system until they ‘prove that they are as sick as male patients.’” This is called Yentyl Syndrome.

Harvard Health Publishing also speaks on this issue. Women are more likely to receive sedatives as opposed to pain medication. Women are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed and discharged while in the middle of having a heart attack because concepts of diseases are more often based on male physiology and women having a heart attack experience completely different symptoms.

This same article points out that while the people affected by chronic illness are 70 percent women, 80 percent of pain studies are conducted with male subjects, and that one of the few studies that research gender differences in experiencing pain found that women feel pain more severely and frequently, yet are prescribed less pain medication after surgeries. The New York Times covers more on these topics, including a study that reveals women are more likely to be told that their pain is caused by emotional distress, or is “psychosomatic.”

Common missed diagnoses include endometriosis, heart disease, stroke and autoimmune disease. And, it is important to note, that race and class systems also play a role. Doctors are much more likely to be dismissive of pain with lower class patients as well as women of color, especially black women. So, it’s important to be heard.

There are a few ways to be heard when it comes to a dismissive doctor, but in some cases, it may not be enough. Switching doctors may not be entirely necessary, though, with the following advice: keep records of your pain and other patterns surrounding it, trust your instincts, be persistent, ask the doctor for explanations on the advice you suspect isn’t helpful, and get it out of your head that you may be overreacting.

Women in America need to stand their ground when it comes to getting the healthcare that they need. Pain is pain, and we shouldn’t need to suffer through it because we’re “just emotional.”