Women really get the short end of the stick when it comes to medical attention, study finds

How many women have we lost because their symptoms have been ignored?
How many women have we lost because their symptoms have been ignored?

A new study proves that not only are women's illnesses and symptoms brushed off when visiting the doctors, they also get diagnosed approximately four years later than men for the same diseases or illnesses.

The study which was originally published on NBC news conducted using data from 6.9 million Danish citizens, found that "across hundreds of diseases, women on average were diagnosed when they were about four years older than the age at which the conditions were recognised in men."

When men get diseases that most healthcare professionals consider 'women's diseases' they are diagnosed at later, more serious stages, and vice versa.

This proves that women have been at the end of unfair treatment in the healthcare system, and it leaves a lot to be desired for. This really became evident lately when model and actress Kim Porter was found dead at her Los Angeles home after being sick with pneumonia. 

Kim went into cardiac arrest after having previously alerted her doctor the evening before to the fact that she was not feeling well after a brief recovery from pneumonia, TMZ reported.

She then died at age 47 - an age at which one could hardly be considered frail, let alone frail enough to not survive a bout of pneumonia. She had access to medical care that did not act when she called for further care, and she died. 

READ MORE: Kim Porter, Diddy's former girlfriend and mother of 3 children dies

One might even imagine - by filling in the gaps between the time she called her doctor and the next morning when she was found dead at her home -  that Porter was probably instructed to take a painkiller and sleep it off. Women, especially those of colour, experience this often.

Conductors of the study could not ascertain the cause for the issue with late diagnoses for women but sited the environment, genetics and possible biases in the healthcare system among other reasons.

And that might just be the case.

Women, like the ones in my thread, often describe doctors attributing their symptoms to anxiety or depression—or, worse, telling them they somehow brought their illnesses on themselves.

"When men get diseases that most healthcare professionals consider 'women's diseases, they are diagnosed at later, more serious stages, and vice versa," Marcia Stefanick, who was not involved with the study, told Reuters Health in an email, writes to the article.

"For example, women are diagnosed later for heart disease, not only because it is still largely considered a 'man's disease', but also because our diagnostic tests are male-biased, in terms in terms of 'typical' being the male presentation.

All medical schools and healthcare training should emphasize both biological sex differences and gender biases so healthcare professionals are aware of unconscious biases." said Marcia.

READ MORE: Could your ex be making you physically ill?

Tennis champion Serena Williams' almost lost her life a day after giving birth to daughter Alexis Ohanian Jnr. She detailed her harrowing experience to Vogue earlier this year, recalling how a nurse initially dismissed her request for a CT scan and a heparin drip as soon as she started experiencing shortness of breath.

Ultimately, Williams was right, but had she not insisted, we would be telling a different story today.

Unfortunately, this is the plight of many women across the world and it spans all class groups. Recently, writer Suzannah Weiss tweeted about her own experience as a woman whose symptoms of chronic illness have been downplayed by doctors. 

It took her 17 doctors and 11 months to finally get to the bottom of Weiss' condition and receive treatment for it. Along the way, she experienced misdiagnoses, wrongly prescribed medications, and even being told that her symptoms were all in her head.

Since Suzannah shared her story, more than 100 women have come forward to talk about their own experiences, and it’s horrifying to see exactly how many haven’t been taken seriously by the people who are supposed to be taking care of their health. 

READ MORE: What exactly is adenomyosis — and how is it linked to infertility?

She started the thread by saying, “Women with chronic illnesses: how long & how many doctors did it take you to get diagnosed? I counted 11 months & 17 doctors & wrote down what each did to show what we go through just to begin to heal.” Suzannah included a screenshot where she had written down what it took for her symptoms to be taken seriously.

“Women, PoC, NB folks, & LGBTQ people w/chronic illnesses are criticised for self-diagnosing, but the reason we self-diagnose is that those charged with diagnosing us are biased against us & don't understand issues that disproportionately affect us,” she tweeted, pointing out that many marginalised groups often get substandard treatment from their doctors. 

Women everywhere responded to Suzannah’s tweet and replied with comments about their own journeys to find healthcare professionals who actually took them and their symptoms seriously.

"Research shows that doctors are less likely to treat women’s pain and take longer to diagnose women (the average time it takes for endometriosis to get diagnosed is six to 10 years!).

Women, like the ones in my thread, often describe doctors attributing their symptoms to anxiety or depression—or, worse, telling them they somehow brought their illnesses on themselves,” Suzannah told HelloGiggles. 

Have you ever not been taken seriously by a doctor? Tell us about it.  

Sign up toW24's newsletters so you don't miss out on any of our stories and giveaways. 

We live in a world where facts and fiction get blurred
In times of uncertainty you need journalism you can trust. For 14 free days, you can have access to a world of in-depth analyses, investigative journalism, top opinions and a range of features. Journalism strengthens democracy. Invest in the future today. Thereafter you will be billed R75 per month. You can cancel anytime and if you cancel within 14 days you won't be billed. 
Subscribe to News24
Editorial feedback and complaints

Contact the public editor with feedback for our journalists, complaints, queries or suggestions about articles on News24.