With International Women’s Day upon us, we’ll be delving into all things health. The medical industry has a long history of overlooking women’s symptoms, not to mention the damaging phenomenon of medical gaslighting of women's pain. We’ll be diving into a few of the common myths that are not only incorrect – but dangerous too.
A survey from 2019 found that 17% of women felt they had been discriminated against by their doctor, with those suffering from chronic conditions stating that healthcare professionals had dismissed or overlooked their symptoms. Around a third shared that they felt they needed to prove they really were in pain in order to be believed. The issue here is that many diseases and their symptoms are not visible to the eye, meaning these dismissals leave many women without the proper diagnosis or treatment for their condition – many of which may become significantly worse if caught late like cancer or autoimmune diseases. It’s also worth noting that much of medical research is based around male test subjects, which poses a major problem to women’s health as these results fail to include hormone and anatomical differences.
We also know that mortality rates rise when we don’t have enough research around women – take coronary heart disease, for instance, and we see that despite older women being at greater risk for the condition, they report higher levels of morbidity and death. While we’re seeing some progress in the inclusion of women in medical research and clinical trials, we’ve got a long way to go – and we continue to see the deadly results of these exclusions, medical gaslighting, and that includes a number of dangerous myths cropping up around women’s health – we’re here to break them down.
Myth #1: Women have a low risk of heart disease
The discussion on heart disease is usually steered around men, much to the detriment of women who may be in the dark on what to look out for. Heart disease doesn’t always present the same way – in the case of a heart attack, you’ve probably heard to look out for chest pain, but did you know in women there are a number of other common symptoms not typically associated with a heart attack? Here are some of the symptoms more commonly experienced by women:
- Back, neck or jaw tightness or pain
- Shortness of breath
- Chest discomfort
Here's a sobering statistic – heart disease kills over double the amount of Aussie women than breast cancer. What’s more, nearly 40% of women’s heart attacks end in death and often involve little forewarning – the real killer is that so many people are unaware that heart attacks are one of the leading causes of death among women. Take a look at a few reasons heart disease and heart attacks fly under the radar:
- Women often have symptoms at a later stage of the disease than men
- Women’s symptoms are often not those that are typically associated with heart disease
- Research shows that some tests for heart disease are less accurate in women
- Health professionals may be more likely to overlook the possibility of heart disease in women than in men
Myth #2: Breast cancer usually comes with a family history
We’re not saying genetics don’t play a role in breast cancer, they absolutely do and a family history of the disease is a risk factor, but the research also shows that a whopping 75% of breast cancer patients do not have a known family history. Take a look at a few of the risk factors outside of having a family history of breast cancer:
- A lack of physical activity: Getting your daily exercise can significantly reduce your risk of developing a number of diseases – including breast cancer.
- Being overweight or obese, particularly post-menopause
- Taking hormones:Some birth control medications may also raise the risk of developing breast cancer.
- Drinking alcohol: Studies show that a woman’s risk for breast cancer increases with excessive alcohol consumption.
- Chronic inflammation: We know that chronic inflammation is a major contributor to a number of diseases, and a high-sugar diet is an easy way to throw your gut microbiome out of whack.
Myth #3: Women don’t get kidney stones
Not only do women get kidney stones, but there’s only a fractional difference in frequency when compared to men – consider that 1 in 10 men will have a stone in their life, and 1 in 12 women will. Yeah, those numbers are not reassuring! And it doesn’t end there – once you’ve had a kidney stone, you’ve got a 50% chance of having another one. If that’s not unpleasant enough, research shows kidney stones are becoming more common in women – luckily there are a few things you can do to reduce your risk:
- Stay hydrated
- Add lemon juice to your meals
- Avoid soft drinks and ultra-processed food
- Don’t overdo it on the salt
Keen to learn more about women’s health, equality and breaking down bias and discrimination? Head on over to International Women’s Day to see how you can help.