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
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
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
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.