Unfortunately, gender bias in diagnosis is rife in the private and public healthcare sectors in the UK. This complex issue has multiple root causes, but many can be traced back to a fundamental gender bias in every step leading up to the consultation.
Whether you’re struggling with your own symptoms or supporting someone close to you who might be unwell, it’s always worth knowing about the misdiagnosis gender gap.
Why is there a misdiagnosis gender gap in healthcare?
Gender bias is a known issue in medical research and diagnosis, with symptoms presented by women often overlooked or considered irrelevant.
Cultural preconceptions of certain diseases can reduce the chances of receiving an informed or constructive response from medical professionals, and in some cases, women’s symptoms are simply not taken as seriously as men’s.
And because illnesses specific to women are lesser known and poorly understood, women also face longer waiting times. On average, it takes seven to eight years for women in the UK to be diagnosed with endometriosis.
What should I do if I’ve been misdiagnosed?
The most important thing to do is vouch for yourself if you think your illness has been misdiagnosed.
It could be worth following up with your doctor if you’re feeling dissatisfied and asking what else your symptoms could point to. If your condition is worsening, seek professional advice from medical negligence specialists.
However, you should try not to jump to conclusions. Make sure you’ve spoken to your doctor enough to be certain that your concerns are being addressed in the wrong way.
Which health conditions are most frequently misdiagnosed in women?
Some studies suggest that being a woman is enough to have a higher chance of being misdiagnosed in a medical setting. However, there are certain conditions that are misdiagnosed more often than others. These include:
It’s not unusual for women to see multiple doctors and wait several years before getting a diagnosis for an autoimmune disease. Symptoms including mood changes, general fatigue, unexpected weight changes and physical pain are synonymous with many different conditions, which often results in a wait-and-see response.
Heart conditions and heart attacks are frequently misdiagnosed in women. According to the British Heart Foundation, women have a 50% higher chance than men of receiving the wrong diagnosis following a heart attack.
Women present different heart attack symptoms than men. Vague signs like general fatigue, feeling sick, and experiencing pain in the neck, back, and jaw areas are often confused with other ailments.
Endometriosis is a disease characterised by the growth of abnormal tissue outside the uterus. It makes it harder for women to get pregnant and can cause severe pelvic pain, especially during periods.
However, when women present to their GP with these symptoms, they’re frequently told that they’re just suffering from painful periods. This often leads to hormonal birth control prescriptions that fail to treat the condition and can cause severe side effects too.
In the UK, women suffering from chronic urinary tract infections (UTIs) often feel frustrated with their experiences seeking a diagnosis and treatment. Short-lived UTIs are quite common, but medical professionals often fail to recognise or acknowledge the symptoms.
While waiting for a UTI diagnosis, women sometimes face the embarrassment of being asked to take tests for sexually transmitted infections. Ignorance and common misconceptions lead to longer waiting times and prolonged pain for women suffering from these infections.
Medical misdiagnosis can be isolating, painful, and even dangerous. Fixing the problem relies on structural issues being addressed, and many of these are outside of our immediate control. To focus on getting the right answers and diagnosis, try to speak to more than one doctor.
Above all, trust your gut and make sure to argue your case, no matter how long it takes.