Lack of awareness might be part of it; with doctors diagnosing women with conditions that are perceived to be more common, like Irritable Bowel Syndrome; but endometriosis affects around 10% of women worldwide, not much less than the 10-15% estimated to be affected by IBS. What is more likely, and proven by research, is that women are believed less by medical staff about their level of pain or severity of symptoms. It’s called the Pain Gap (something to add to your collection alongside the Pay Gap) and it might mean you have to stand up for your own health the next time you visit the doctor.
Why you should stand up for your health
As much as we’d like to believe that medical professionals treat us all equally and don’t bring in bias, unfortunately they can and do. As women, research proves we can often receive a lower standard of care and face longer diagnosis times, less pain medication and a higher chance of being diagnosed with a psychological condition when the issue is a physical one.
When we are ill or know something is physically wrong but we’re not being listened to, we have to be insistent, because a medical professional that ignores your health issues because of your gender is being negligent. For example, if you repeatedly see a doctor for digestive issues, like pain and diarrhoea but they continually send you away with the same advice of “eat better, lose weight, and take paracetamol” and then it’s discovered you have a serious condition, such as bowel cancer, your life has been put at risk. This is an extreme example; but it can occur, and can actually mean you can make a . It doesn’t have to be life-threatening conditions that are missed; conditions like hypothyroidism or PCOS can be debilitating if left untreated as well.
How to stand up for your health
It might feel like you’re telling your doctor how to treat you, but that isn’t the case. If you have followed previous advice, or taken prescribed medication, only for it not to work then insisting on further investigation is not out of order. In fact, doctors see so many patients that they may not realize what advice had previously been given, so making it clear that treatment hasn’t worked and you want tests or a referral can persuade them if they were on the borderline about your condition.
If this doesn’t work, you can always make a complaint to the medical practice or hospital that the professional works at. Most have complaints procedures in place to help and you may find that a little nudge from authority that will help your health concerns be addressed promptly. In the UK, there are services like the NHS Patients Advice and Liaison Service, which is available to help.
Finally, if you really have concerns about your treatment, changing doctors or getting a second opinion might be the best choice for you. This is a big chance to take and, if living in the US, could be very expensive, so should be a final resort. As well as this, ing a professional in medical negligence claims, like , might help if you’ve been badly affected by the negligence of your doctor.