An article popped up in my Facebook feed recently — How Sexism Affects Women’s Health Every Day – and I couldn’t help myself. I clicked through because it affirmed things that I’ve been saying for a long time. And not surprisingly, reading the article made me angry all over again.
I know that I am treated differently at doctor’s appointments than my husband is. I’ve seen it firsthand. He gets prescriptions and follow-up appointments. I get told I seem fine. The longest discussions I’ve ever had with doctors have been over my weight. I have been misled, ignored, and downright lied to by everyone from doctors to insurance advisors.
Concerned about swelling during pregnancy? Don’t worry so much. Fatigue? You have young children; that’s just the way it is. Depression? Just take some birth control pills to manage those silly hormones.
I feel like this is the point where I should stop and say that I appreciate the hard work that doctors and health care professionals do every single day. Some of my best friends are doctors and nurses. I understand that the current state of our healthcare system makes it difficult for doctors to spend meaningful time with patients. But we all have to commit to changing that because women are getting shortchanged.
Women experience higher rates of chronic pain but have great difficulty in receiving adequate treatment. In a 2014 survey of more than 2,000 women, 65 percent said they thought doctors took their chronic pain less seriously because they were women. More than half of respondents said a doctor had told them “You look good, so you must be feeling better,” and 45 percent were told “The pain is all in your head.”
When new medicines and treatments are being developed, women are often left out of the equation. Women continue to be excluded from clinical trials or not adequately represented. Despite the fact that heart disease is the leading killer of women in the United States, only one-third of cardiovascular clinical trial subjects are female.
In the United States, twice as many women than men suffer from depression, but less than 45 percent of animal studies on anxiety and depression use female lab animals.
Women have almost twice the risk of developing Alzheimer’s over their lifetime compared to men, but “the prevailing thinking in the field is that this is simply because women live longer.”
I’m an educated healthcare consumer. I do my research; I’m relatively knowledgeable. But this data shows that despite my best efforts, I may not receive the care, medication, or diagnosis I need.
So, what can we do? As women, we must continue to be our own advocates and speak up (sometimes repeatedly) about the issues and symptoms we are experiencing. We can’t be afraid to tell our doctors that they have it wrong or to seek out second opinions. We can support research efforts that include women and encourage our congressional representatives to ensure that the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and others continue to improve in that area.
But the thing that might be most important is also the hardest. We have to be willing to give honest feedback to our doctors. Yes, they are busy, but they deserve to know the truth. It is the only way they will improve. I’ve made appointments to chat with doctors about my care and their approach to me as a woman. I’ve written letters to providers to update them on work with a specialist and encouraged them to refer other patients they didn’t have answers for.
We all have to do our part to improve health care’s approach to women. It could literally be a matter of life and death.
Sara Lang has worked in North Carolina politics at the state, federal, and local levels for more than 15 years. A communications consultant, she lives in Cary with her husband, two young children, and a pampered dog.