What’s The Problem?

“Women are more likely to wait longer for a health diagnosis and to be told it’s ‘all in their heads’. That can be lethal: diagnostic errors cause 40,000-80,000 deaths in the US alone.”  –

BBC Future

Who Does It Affect?

For centuries, women’s health issues have been reduced to “hysteria” – that their symptoms are only imagined, related to their hormones, or are for seeking attention. On top of this inherent bias of doctors towards women, other biases exist are held on the basis of race, social class, education-level, weight, age, sexual orientation, and immigration status. According to the study titled “Gender Disparity in Analgesic Treatment of Emergency Department Patients with Acute Abdominal Pain” by Dr. Esther Chen et al, women were 13% to 25% less likely than men to receive opioid analgesia when they presented to the ER with similar symptoms. Additional studies into race bias found that black patients are then 22% less likely than white patients to receive any pain medication even as children.

According to CNN, 13% percent of women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer, and about 9% of them will be younger than 45. According to a study published in the March 2015 issue of the Journal of American Medical Association, 13% of the doctors in the study missed a diagnoses of Stage 1 breast cancer.

58% of women surveyed in a study commissioned by Thinx and published in The New York Post reported being embarrassed just by having their periods and nearly ½ said they’d been shamed during their periods. These feelings of embarrassment and shame around their reproductive health can make them less likely to advocate for themselves when they feel something isn’t right.

It is easier when the problem is a fracture that can be seen and confirmed with a fast x-ray. When the problem is internal instead of visible and something women have been taught is shameful like menstruation, they are less likely to advocate for themselves when a doctor tells them they are fine.

What Happens When Shame and Bias Get in the Way?

According to Doing Harm by Maya Dusenbery, women are more likely than men to wait 10 months with 5 or more visits to their doctor between their first visit and diagnosis. This wait time is greater for low-income people. There is no research on how many women don’t go back due to shame or lack of financial ability to pay or miss work. It’s estimated that 40-80,000 deaths in the US occur each year due to misdiagnoses. Those numbers represent children being raised without parents and women missing from the workforce. For women who survive misdiagnoses, they can find themselves in tremendous debt and/or permanently disabled.


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