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Are Doctors Bad For Your Health? The Myth of Hypochondria.

Updated on March 25, 2010

Does Gender Bias Affect Medical Diagnoses?



We have all heard horror stories of women patients who have suffered after having their symptoms dismissed by medical practitioners. Is this only a small fraction, though, of these stories? How many more women’s experiences only ever found validation in the social network of their families and friends? It seems every woman has, or knows someone, who has been fobbed off by a doctor, later to be proven correct.

It could be that women talk more. Yes, that is stating the bleedin’ obvious!  Women do talk more, about their lives, and their problems probably get aired more than men’s. Perhaps they do visit the doctors more often, maybe with a heightened sense of symptom awareness or responsibility, or indeed to seek a second opinion after having been derided as a hypochondriac in the first instance. Have, then, women inadvertently contributed to the perpetration of this attitude of mythical symptoms, through their comparatively higher level of doctor visits, and through their very diligence and awareness in seeking second opinions? How often too is it that the original doctor is never notified of his mistake in not acknowledging the woman’s concerns and of their subsequent validation, thereby not dispelling his original assumption of hypochondria? It is always difficult to know if doctors are dismissive in general to all patients, and if this is just more evident with the greater number of medical consultations by women.

Allowing for human error, or the ambiguity of some symptoms, the degree of error in legitimising concerns cannot be accounted for. Not taking away from the expertise of many medical practitioners, too many doctors can be dismissive of women and their symptoms. We have public awareness campaigns to promote seeing your doctor. Do we need such campaigns for doctors’ awareness?

To promote awareness of the woman who’s substantive physical symptoms were left untreated because the doctor “didn’t know why” she was experiencing them, and who rejected her suggestion of their cause, until the specialist she demanded to see confirmed her belief; of the symptoms experienced by another which were repeatedly disregarded as being caused by “too much partying” until comfirmed as a severe auto-immune disease; or the woman told at 39 she was “too young” to have breast cancer.

How many times has women’s awareness been rejected as being hypochondria?

Yes, they could have a valium and lie down, but how many have suffered through this dismissive attitude? Should they lie down? Or stand up and be counted? How many lives have been affected?

How much of this alleged hypochondria is in doctors’  minds?


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