The world of medicine is built on trust and compassion, with patients seeking solace in the hands of skilled healthcare professionals. However, a darker reality exists within this realm, one that is often overlooked and rarely discussed: medical misogyny. This prejudiced attitude towards women in healthcare has far-reaching consequences, particularly for those living with conditions such as Dysautonomia and Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS) or other chronic conditions. In this blog, I delve into the complex intersection of medical misogyny and Dysautonomia/POTS, shedding light on the challenges faced by women in receiving timely and appropriate care. This may be for you if you suffer from any chronic illness, but I will focus on my own experience and conditions call POTS, which I am currently writing a book on as well.
Understanding Dysautonomia POTS
Dysautonomia is an umbrella term used to describe a range of medical conditions that occur due to autonomic nervous system dysfunction. This system regulates essential bodily functions such as heart rate, blood pressure, digestion, and body temperature. One specific form of dysautonomia is Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (POTS). POTS is characterized by an abnormal increase in heart rate upon assuming an upright position, leading to symptoms like dizziness, fatigue, brain fog, and fainting. While POTS can affect individuals of any gender, it predominantly impacts women. Conditions such as fibromyalgia, endometriosis, EDS, chronic fatigue syndrome, or chronic pain syndromes are disorders that disproportionately affect women and are often overlooked or downplayed. I have personally witnessed men going in for chest pains and getting a full cardiac workup while women who come in and be told ‘it’s stress’ or anxiety and refuse to even call their cardiologist. I have heard stories of similar situations as well!
Medical Misogyny: A Systemic Problem
Medical misogyny refers to the pervasive gender bias and discrimination women face in healthcare settings. It manifests in various ways, including dismissive attitudes, disbelief of symptoms, undertreatment, and misdiagnosis. I have experienced it and witnessed it as well.
Delayed Diagnosis and Dismissal
One of the primary challenges women face is obtaining an accurate and timely diagnosis. I had the symptoms the entire life of what we now call dysautonomia POTS, and I wasn’t diagnosed in 2013 (I was born in 1970). As a woman, our symptoms are often trivialized or attributed to anxiety or hormonal changes, leading to delayed diagnoses and unnecessary suffering. Many women report being told that their symptoms are “all in their head” or being advised to “just relax” or “get more sleep.” This dismissal not only undermines the lived experiences of these patients but also perpetuates the cycle of medical misogyny.
Gender Bias in Research and Treatment
Gender bias also extends to research and treatment protocols. Historically, clinical research has predominantly focused on male participants, resulting in a lack of understanding regarding women’s unique experiences and physiological differences. Consequently, due to differences, treatment options may be ineffective or inadequate for women like me with Dysautonomia POTS or other conditions like those mentioned above.
Advocacy and Breaking the Cycle
While medical misogyny presents formidable challenges, advocacy, education, and awareness make change possible. It is crucial for women to assert their voices, trust their experiences, and insist on being heard by their healthcare providers. Moreover, medical professionals must acknowledge and address their biases, ensuring that gender disparities are eliminated within healthcare systems. Improved medical education, increased research focusing on women’s health, and developing evidence-based guidelines for women with chronic conditions are vital steps toward breaking this cycle.
Empowering Women with Dysautonomia POTS
If you are a woman with a chronic illness, remember you are not alone. Connecting with support groups, patient advocacy organizations, online communities, and practitioners that support women with chronic illnesses like myself or similar practitioners can be a huge resource! It can help find solidarity, share experiences, and access valuable resources. Building a network of individuals who understand your journey can provide both emotional support and practical advice.
Medical misogyny is an unfortunate reality that intersects with the lives of women living with chronic illnesses that can be excruciating. I know because, yes, I have experienced it too as someone with POTS; recognizing this bias is the first step towards creating an equitable healthcare system that prioritizes the experiences and needs of all patients, irrespective of their gender. By raising awareness, demanding change, and fostering dialogue, we can pave the way for a more compassionate, inclusive, and effective approach to healthcare for women with chronic conditions.