Does Your Doctor Believe You?

A Common Experience
Have you ever been frustrated by a doctor who tells you that your symptoms must be all in your head? You're not alone. Women may find themselves facing this situation for a variety of reasons, especially when they come in to their physicians with vague or systemic symptoms.

A close relative to the dismissal of a woman's health complaints is a diagnosis of depression. It is true that women may frequently suffer from depression, and while this may be treatable, that diagnosis might not be getting to an underlying medical condition. It is no wonder that a woman searching for a long time for a diagnosis for her symptoms may begin to be depressed, right? Well, treating her depression still does not get at her underlying ailment.

Why does this happen?
Women tend to suffer from illnesses that have more general symptoms more often than men do. These conditions include things such as depression, chronic fatigue syndrome, and a whole host of immune or hormonal problems. Since these diseases can have a variety of effects on different parts of the body, making a diagnosis becomes much harder, or the doctor may suspect that a woman is simply imagining her complaints. While this may be a sign that a doctor is insensitive to his or her patients' needs, it is important for a woman to realize that many of these diseases with general symptoms are also rarer and therefore harder to diagnose. So, instead of losing patience right away and chalking it up to a bad doctor, she should be patient or consider visiting a specialist.

Avoiding the Problem
How can a woman avoid being told that she's merely imagining her illness? First of all, it may help her to ask around among her circle of friends to see what they have to say about their physicians. This is good not only to scare up a few good recommendations for doctors, but she'll also know which doctors to avoid. It is also wise to visit a potential match in order to interview him or her in person; this is a good way to assess the physician's personality and outlook on treatment. Other signs to watch for are a courteous staff, and more generally, respect and understanding. After all, a doctor whose practice is focused on consideration for the patient is also likely to listen to her ailments more. And it isn't a bad idea to look specifically for female doctors - since they're women, they are likely to be more attuned to the ailments that women may suffer from and won't be so quick to dismiss a woman's symptoms as being purely psychological.

Another important thing a woman may want to look for in her search for the right physician is certification in women's health. This certification may be awarded through continuing medical education credits offered by the American Medical Women's Association. These doctors have been educated on diseases that are more prevalent among women, such as autoimmune disorders, and they may be more likely to recognize the symptoms of a mystery illness.

In order to avoid receiving the "it's all in your head" diagnosis, a woman might also consider keeping a health diary. In it, she may want to record her height and weight, regularity of her menstrual cycles, conditions that run in her family, current illnesses or treatments, plus notes on any symptoms she is experiencing. This information, and especially the last factor, may aid the doctor in determining what is ailing the patient.

Getting the "all in your head" treatment may be a sign that a doctor is really not sensitive to the diseases that women get which present with general symptoms, and that even medical professionals may have gender biases. However, it is an entirely different story if a doctor is blatantly sexist in his or her treatment of patients. For cases such as this, a woman should report that professional's behavior to an organization such as the Center for Women in Medicine and Health Care.

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Coming to Your Doctor with Health Information

Coming to Your Doctor with Health Information

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