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Compared to Men, Women are Misdiagnosed More Often

Numerous women are already aware of the problems they have getting an accurate diagnosis, especially when they are experiencing pain or a condition related to the female reproductive system. This is a problem that quickly becomes obvious when comparing women’s diagnosis rates to men’s, and there are several reasons why this disparity exists.

What Diagnoses Are Missed Most Often?

When a condition commonly affects men, if a woman presents with this condition she is less likely to be diagnosed correctly with it. For example, heart disease, strokes, and heart attacks are common in women, but medical professionals often seem to discount these illnesses as viable options when determining whether a woman’s symptoms could be a result of these diagnoses.

Another common area for misdiagnosis or missed diagnoses is issues relating to pain, particularly when that pain relates to the reproductive system.

Why Are These Diagnoses Missed?

A fundamental issue behind women’s lack of diagnoses with regard to pain-related issues in particular is that often women’s pain is downplayed, disregarded, or viewed as an overreaction. Jeffrey Arrington, MD, at the Center for Endometriosis Care states that “women with endometriosis are often told, ‘This kind of pain with your period is normal,’ and made to think they’re overreacting.”

Numerous cases of women have been recorded in which they were suffering from severe pelvic pain that was brushed off as period-related. In many of these cases women were in fact suffering from endometriosis, which causes painful scarring in the reproductive organs, severely painful periods, and can result in infertility if left untreated. A related factor is that many doctors are not comprehensively educated as to the female reproductive system, menstruation, and the medical problems that women may experience.

A related concern is that much research and significant numbers of clinical trials are limited to male specimens, even when the disease being studied is something many women are affected by. Research like this may not identify the differences between effects on men and women. Additionally, medical treatments are developed with a “typical patient” in mind: someone who is white, 70kg, and male. Historically, medical research was only performed on men and the differences for women were merely extrapolated. This results in some cases where even if there is a correct diagnosis of the illness, the required treatment might not be given to a woman correctly.

If the health issues of women are not seriously considered, there can be great consequences for them over extended time periods. An expert from Fletcher’s Solicitors, a legal firm specializing in claims for medical negligence, highlights that “one in three people with serious myocardial infection is likely to be initially given an incorrect diagnosis, and men are 37% less likely to be given an incorrect diagnosis when they are having a classic heart attack.” In many cases, failures to correctly diagnose women who are admitted to hospital with heart-attack symptoms results in their death, when a correct and timely diagnosis would have saved them.

What Can Change?

More evidence is being gathered about the different reactions between men and women to different conditions, and what treatments are needed. Research has already shown that “women and men metabolize drugs differently, experience different side effects and derive different benefits from the same treatments.”

Continuing this investigation is critical to eliminating the gender gap for the accuracy of diagnoses and validity of treatments that women and men receive.