Is Misdiagnosis an Epidemic Among Women?

Since 1999, the number of deaths caused by medical errors increased from 98,000 to over 250,000 yearly.  Not only is the increase shocking, but so is the fact that women are far more likely to be misdiagnosed than men, which begs the question – “Is Misdiagnosis an Epidemic Among Women?” The issue of misdiagnosis among women is one that has gained increasing interest from the reaches of media, research, and both the healthcare and legal communities.  Is there an answer? Let’s explore what recent research shows in misdiagnosis trends among women.

Misdiagnosis Occurs Far More in Women

Research in 2016 found that women have a much greater chance of being misdiagnosed than their male counterparts.  Some women spend years shuttling between doctors searching for answers only to find that the disorders other doctors missed or misdiagnosed were potentially life-threatening.

In a specific areas of healthcare, research showed the following trends:

  • Women are 50 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed following a heart attack.
  • Women are 30 more likely to be misdiagnosed, or have their condition overlooked entirely, following a stroke.
  • It takes approximately five years for autoimmune diseases to be correctly identified and diagnosed in women.
  • Female-specific conditions (endometriosis, adenomyosis, fibroids, etc.) often take 10 years or more for accurate identification and diagnosis.

Of course, any doctor can make a mistake – they are human after all.  But why are women so much more vulnerable to misdiagnosis and the detrimental side effects thereof?

Factors Impacting Women’s Healthcare

The reasons why women are misdiagnosed at an alarming rate compared to men are not entirely clear.  Research does suggest the following factors, or “problems”, that cause women to suffer for longer periods of time:

  1. Doctors View Women as “Too Emotional”: Historically, the term “hysteria” was used to describe the emotional nature of women. But in our increasingly advanced and equalized society, the fact remains that women are often labeled as too emotional.  Further, disorders that are very physical are often misdiagnosed or “written off” as being related to emotional or psychological health.  Symptoms like difficulty breathing, sweating, nausea, or abdominal pain are often equated to anxiety or stress.  While sometimes physical and psychological symptoms may work off one another, there is a very serious problem of physical examinations not being conducted before determining the cause of the symptoms are psychological.
  2. Women are a “Medical Mystery”: Much of the research and training that doctors receive is outdated in terms of understanding the reproductive system and female-specific conditions. Some doctors believe that the problem rests in the curriculum and “patterns” that medical school students are taught.  When practicing, if a patient doesn’t fit into that pattern, it becomes even harder to make an accurate diagnosis.  In terms of curriculum problems, less than half of medical students included in one study felt the curriculum prepared them for gender differences in their clinical practices.  The fact is – doctors are often trained to treat men and women similarly, but that is not always the best practice.

As patients, women play little if any part of the education and training of their doctor, as well as how skilled they are in diagnosing men versus women.  So then, what can women do to take an active role in their healthcare and ensure that their medical needs are being met?

Ways Women Can Take Control of Their Healthcare

There is little that is more frustrating than being in pain and feeling like your symptoms are being dismissed.  As a patient, you may not be able to control the way that your doctor practices medicine, but you can control the way that you pursue healthcare and demand results.  Some ways that women can take control of their healthcare, and prove that they have control, include:

  1. Be an Online Sleuth: The internet doesn’t always have reliable information, but there are many websites that can help you put a name to your symptoms. Sites like the Mayo Clinic, WebMD, and the National Institutes of Health can help you pinpoint your symptoms, understand how they are affecting your body, and articulate what you are going through with your doctor.  The more informed and concise you are, the better your chances of getting positive results.
  2. Check Your Emotions: When you are in pain or suffering from adverse symptoms, it is harder than ever to keep your emotions out of the equation. It is often recommended, however, that you approach a doctor’s appointment with your emotions in check.  Compile your research and concerns into notes that you can follow and share with your doctor.  Rather than telling a story, give your doctor the facts he or she needs to help you.
  3. Consider Seeing a Female Doctor: There are a lot of great male and female doctors out there who could help you. But as we mentioned before, sometimes doctors have a difficult time understanding the differences between male and female.  Some research shows that female doctors often invest more time and education into elements of care like communication and following guidelines.  Because the female body is more complex thanks to the reproductive organs, sometimes a female doctor has a better personal understanding of what you are going through – but that is not always the case.
  4. Be Confident about Your Healthcare: In days gone by, women were more likely to defer decision-making and authority to their male counterparts. When it comes to your healthcare, be confident that you have educated yourself, organized yourself, and are prepared to get answers.  Don’t be afraid to ask questions and demand thorough responses.  Be your own best advocate.
  5. Get Legal Support: If at any time you feel like you have been treated negligently by a doctor and you were injured as a result, it may also be helpful to contact a medical malpractice attorney to discuss your situation. Not all medical mistakes are considered malpractice, but every patient deserves the opportunity to stand up for themselves and their wellbeing.

 Legal Support You Can Count On

At Brown & Brothers, we help clients all over Texas with a variety of medical-related legal concerns.  Whether you are concerned about your rights, have been injured, or are worried about a loved one, we are here to help.  Fill out our online form to schedule your free case evaluation.

 

Sources:

https://www.glamour.com/story/why-are-so-many-women-being-misdiagnosed