medical gaslighting in women's health

Medical Gaslighting: Why Do Doctors Ignore Women?

Medical gaslighting is when medical practitioners attribute a patient’s symptoms or illness to nonmedical factors or deny the symptoms or illness exists. This tends to occur more frequently in women and especially women of color. The term derives from a play entitled “Gas Light” about a husband’s attempt to convince his wife that she is insane.

Why Would a Medical Practitioner Gaslight a Patient?

The reasons are multifactorial and complex. Practicing medicine is getting increasingly difficult. Patients may not even see a doctor, but rather a midlevel provider. If they do see a doctor, the time spent has become increasingly short and rushed. Racial or gender bias may be factors. Women want to be good patients. They often rely solely on their practitioner’s opinion rather than “rocking the boat” by challenging their opinion.

Gaslighting in Women’s Health

A common scenario that we see at the Atlanta Fibroid Center is an African-American woman who has been having very heavy periods due to uterine fibroids. This has caused a lot of blood loss each month and left her feeling exhausted and weak. The amount of blood coming out is also very concerning to her. Blood may gush out and run down her legs. This may also be associated with the passage of large clots which may be as large or larger than her fist. The patient is often physically drained, as well as, emotionally drained from having to face this situation month after month.

This will often prompt a visit to the gynecologist. The fibroids that cause these symptoms are typically submucosal fibroids. This type of fibroid is located just underneath the lining of the uterus, which is deep inside the uterus and often undetectable by physical examination. These heavy periods may go untreated if the patient is not anemic based on blood test results.

Major Fibroid Symptom Is Inappropriately Denied

A study from Europe published in 2015, reported on over 1000 women with heavy menstrual bleeding. Almost half never consulted a physician and less than half of those that did were given any appropriate treatment. Some of the women in the study did not appreciate that their flow was abnormally heavy. Just because you have bled heavy for a long time does not make it normal for you. Women may ask their mother or another close relative who also happens to bleed heavy and this gets passed on as “we’re just heavy bleeders” or “this is what happens to women as they get older”.

What exactly is a normal amount of bleeding per month? There is no exact normal number. Some say 30-40 ml (2-3 tablespoons), and some report close to 60 ml (4 tablespoons). More than this is heavy and more than 80 ml is generally agreed to be too heavy. Measuring the flow each month is cumbersome, particularly if you don’t use a menstrual cup. The cup has markings to measure the amount (1cc=1ml) but tissue, mucus, and clots can interfere with this measurement.

Alternatively, if you change pads more frequently than every 3-4 hours, need to change more than one pad at a time, or pass clots larger than a quarter, your period is too heavy. If you have accidents in your own blood, episodes of blood gushing or flooding out of your body, down your legs, sit, sleep on protective plastic to prevent accidents, or wear an adult diaper, your period is obviously too heavy.

How to Deal with Medical Gaslighting

Keep in mind a couple of very important points.

  • First, no one knows your body better than you. If your period is interfering with your quality of life, it is abnormal and should prompt medical attention. This is true no matter what your medical professional has told you.
  • Second, if you feel that your medical complaints are being dismissed or you are not being listened to, you need to seek out another doctor. Women need to advocate for themselves and become invested in their own health.

If you have heavy periods due to uterine fibroids or suspect that you may have symptomatic fibroids, schedule an appointment with the doctors from the Atlanta Fibroid Center®. You will have 45 minutes of time face to face with a doctor (sometimes two!). They will listen to your concerns, and you can feel very comfortable with a plan of action that you will craft with them. Your input is valuable.

Successful medical practices are about teamwork and collaboration between an educated, informed, and engaged patient and an expert medical professional. Dr. John Lipman and Dr. Mitchell Ermentrout are two of the most experienced uterine fibroid embolization (UFE) experts in the country. To make an appointment, please call (770) 953-2600.

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