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How Women's Pain Gets Gaslighted in The Global Healthcare System

“One woman was told she was being “dramatic” when she pleaded for a brain scan after suffering months of headaches and pounding in her ears. It turned out she had a brain tumor. Another was ignored as she cried out in pain during a 33-hour labor. She was supposed to be getting pain medication through her epidural, but it had fallen out.”

These are actual stories cited by an article In the Washington Post, titled, “From heart disease to IUDs: How doctors dismiss women’s pain”.

From ovarian cysts being dimmed down to normal menstrual pain or tumors being overlooked, several women attest to receiving that type of behavior. And while in some cases it may be true, in most serious health conditions are being overlooked. In other words, this sort of behavior results not only in perpetuated bias but also grave health consequences.

Many studies have shown that there is a certain “gaslighting” when it comes to women expressing pain in healthcare facilities. This type of behavior has been traced back to many years ago, citing connections to racism as well when it comes to this specific topic.

The historical exclusion of women from medical research comes from the presumption that their biology is the same as that of men. A source cites that women were consciously kept out of the majority of clinical trials until about 30 years ago. The team responsible for this research believed that the female hormonal cycles were too difficult to control in experiments.

With that being said, women’s complaints have often been set aside as being dramatic or hysterical – Did you know the word “hysteria” comes from the Greek word for uterus? Women have often been labelled as being hyper emotional individuals, thus perceiving their statements as simply being “intense”.

Other than research exclusion, there are many factors that lend themselves to this situation specifically being psychological and societal. Men, for example, often are louder and more persistent in their complaints; on the other hand, women may have more difficulty resisting and advocating for themselves. A doctor attests to that in an online article stating, “They believe they must be excellent patients, which entails accepting what their physicians say. Nevertheless, by doing so, they are depriving themselves of a voice.”

Alright let’s talk facts, these are some of the numbers citied in the Washington Post article:

  1. An analysis of 981 emergency room visits found that women with severe abdominal pain were up to 25% less likely to be treated with powerful painkillers than their male counterparts.
  2. Women who visited emergency departments with chest pain waited 29% longer than men to be evaluated for possible heart attacks.
  3. Women with chest pain and other symptoms of heart disease were twice as likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness compared with men who had the same symptoms.

Now that we have talked about the situation, what can we do to help? Here are some gathered information we have come across that help to push this topics, and raise awareness on it:
1- More Acknowledgement
First step is to acknowledge the problem and know that is a serious issue affecting hundreds of women worldwide. Educate yourself on the situation and the complexity of the symptoms that women may endure.
2- More Talks
Once you know about the concern, now you need to talk about it. Discuss it with your friends, families, and loved ones to ensure that the people around you do know this is an issue. Share some articles, statistics, numbers, even personal stories that allow them to understand the situation.
3- More Training
There is an evident historical lack of research, and so medical professionals need to be re-trained. Advocating for programs to be installed that consider a woman’s medical past, symptoms and indications, diet routines, and other lifestyle influences.
4- More Awareness
Always resort to creative ways of creating awareness, whether it is sharing to your social media platforms or having a conversation with your coworkers to brainstorm initiatives. Awareness should be heavily concentrated in these networked spaces to ensure that people outside your close circles are also aware. Do the work yourself! Contact your local NGOs and discuss how you may be of help to them.

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