Women, it’s Time to Take Charge of Your Health

April 19, 2024

Ladies, have you ever been to the doctor and described ongoing symptoms only to be told that you’re likely “just stressed?” 

Have you found yourself dismissed by a physician who seems disinterested when you ask if they could run some tests to get to the root of your condition? 

Do you feel like your male counterparts are taken more seriously by medical professionals and even tended to more rapidly? 

If so, you’re not alone. 

In healthcare, gender discrimination is sadly very real

Statistics, research and plenty of anecdotal evidence back up the fact that gender bias in healthcare is real. Women are often given the runaround by medical professionals. It’s harder for them to receive a diagnosis. They often aren’t treated as swiftly as men – and are more likely to be misdiagnosed and then diagnosed.

In a 2019 survey, 1 in 5 women reported having felt that at one point, a healthcare provider had ignored or dismissed their symptoms. Research has shown that when women go to the ER with chest pain, they have to wait almost a third longer than men before anyone checks them out for a heart attack. And another study found that women exhibiting chest pains and heart disease symptoms were two times more likely to be diagnosed with a mental illness than males experiencing the same symptoms.

There are many theories behind these staggering stats but here are a few expert-backed reasons as to why this gender discrimination can occur.  

Studies haven’t historically been done on as many women as men

For many years, medical research was mainly focused on men. Having mostly men involved in studies and clinical trials has led to a lack of understanding of the health needs and experiences of women. It also erroneously establishes men as the norm when it comes to health symptoms scenarios. 

Because of this, testing and treatment for female-oriented conditions has traditionally been lacking. This has fortunately come into attention in recent decades, since the Public Health Service Task Force on Women’s Health Issues released a 1985 report highlighting the issue. Organizations like the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are now making sure to better incorporate women into studies, however, there is still a ways to go. 

Women can be dismissed as being emotional

Traditional gender stereotypes have tended to portray women as being more emotional and sensitive, while men have been perceived as braver. Numerous studies have shown that women who communicate that they are experiencing pain are being hysterical, complaining and fabricating or exaggerating their symptoms. This means doctors can sometimes just tell them they are stressed or imagining symptoms that are in fact, very real. Women are therefore more likely to be given a mental health diagnosis like having anxiety or depression versus being given physical causes for their pain. 

Women and men can experience different symptoms for the same conditions

Heart attack symptoms can commonly show up as pain in the chest for all of those affected. But women can also experience other symptoms like shortness of breath, nausea or back or jaw pain. And women are more likely to get long COVID than men, which could cause one healthcare provider who has cleared male patients of the condition, to contribute brain fog or fatigue to something like “that time of the month.” 

Women’s symptoms may sometimes overlap with other conditions. For instance, signs of strokes can be often brushed off in women, as they can include symptoms like fatigue, vision problems and severe headaches. Fatigue can be a sign of everything from heart disease to dehydration, perimenopause, an out-of-whack thyroid – this wide range of conditions can lead to medical misdiagnosis in females. 

Women have their own unique healthcare needs 

Monthly menstrual cycles, pregnancy, menopause, hormonal fluctuations… When it comes to health, women have their own experiences that will never affect men. Then there are risk factors for conditions like uterine, cervical and ovarian cancer that are also gender specific – and higher rates of conditions like breast and lung cancers. Sometimes, general health physicals are quick to blow past conditions that could be causing abdominal pain in women like undiagnosed endometriosis.

Not all conditions have screening tests

The American Cancer Society screening guidelines recommend that women get regular screening for breast cancer, cervical cancer, colorectal cancer, and lung cancer, as evidence has shown that these tests may help save lives. But these exams only check for a handful of conditions and are not always adept at catching diseases. In fact, a University of Chicago study found that only 14% of cancers were detected through standard diagnostic tests, with the majority identified through symptoms or medical intervention unrelated to cancer screening. The rest were either not caught by screening tests or sadly don’t have one. 

The fact that only a handful of cancers have standardized screening tests means that about 57% of all diagnosed cancers currently do not have a standardized screening test, according to researchers at NORC at the University of Chicago. The research team reports that these diseases are typically found in symptomatic patients with later-stage cancers that are more difficult to treat. In total, these diagnoses account for 70% of cancer-related deaths.

While there are many cancers that still don’t have routine screening, this does not mean that we should not get screened for those conditions. Ovarian cancer is the fifth leading cause of cancer death among American women, yet there is no screening test widely available. It is known as the silent killer because ovarian cancer does not show symptoms until its later stages. However, when detected early, the five-year survival rate is over 90% compared to 10% caught at late stages.

And cancer aside, there are many conditions that if caught early, can be potentially life-saving, such as brain aneurysms, which are often asymptomatic until they burst. An estimated 6.7 million people in the US, for instance, have an unruptured brain aneurysm. And women over the age of 55 have a higher risk of experiencing a brain aneurysm rupture than men.

It’s time for women to take their health health into their own hands

The current health system takes a reactive approach to care, where doctors order most testing after patients complain of symptoms. This can often lead to identifying the cause, but in the later stages. But study after study shows that identifying a condition, like cancer, early is key to effectively treating it. Fortunately there are options that don’t involve waiting around till a symptom pops up that flags a condition that is too late to treat – or being tirelessly bounced from doctor to doctor until being taken seriously enough to be given a proper diagnosis.

At Prenuvo, we’re on a mission to turn ‘sick care’ into proactive healthcare. Our comprehensive whole body scan can identify life-threatening conditions, like cancer, at stage 1, and can also search for hundreds of conditions – everything from liver disease to ovarian cancer and gallstones. In just 60 minutes, Prenuvo provides you with a view into the major organs and systems in your body – from your brain to your ankles, giving you a holistic look into your current health status. And this is all done safely without harmful ionizing radiation that other imaging methods (X-rays, CT scans, PET scans) use and is performed without contrast dyes. 

Since gender disparity in healthcare is a very real situation, women especially need to be proactive with their healthcare. The fact that less studies have been done on women’s bodies, many female symptoms overlap with other conditions, and women are often brushed off as just being anxious or stressed, are just a few of the reasons why so many women’s conditions go overlooked. But being able to take charge of your own health is empowering. Prenuvo enables you to see first hand how your current lifestyle may be affecting your underlying health and provides you with actionable data you can use to ensure you are taking the right steps to live your healthiest life. 

Imagine getting a full body scan and walking into your healthcare provider, pulling up your personalized report on your Prenuvo app, and saying, “I had some abdominal pain and my whole body MRI found that I have endometriosis. What is my next step? How can we go about treating this?” That sounds a lot more refreshing than being brushed off with “You’re probably just stressed. Go do some yoga.” doesn’t it?

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