Why are women so often misdiagnosed?
One of the major issues surrounding the misdiagnosis of women is the historical basis of healthcare research and testing, which has been centered around male anatomy. This leaves the medical field with a greater understanding of how the male body reacts to medications and diseases. It has in turn, hindered research, information, and development of best practices, surrounding women’s healthcare. Male and female bodies are different on a biological and cellular level; it is only through continuing research that the knowledge gap will be bridged.
This problem persisted into the 1990’s, when finally congressional hearings were held to examine the exclusion of women during the first 20 years of an aging study. In 1993, Congress passed a law stating that women must be included in all NIH (National Institute of Health) studies. Despite efforts to increase knowledge around women’s health care with inclusive studies, women are still underrepresented in these studies today.
How does this affect women’s health care?
Women often have different responses to medications than men. Reasons include, but are not limited to: differences in percentage of body fat, metabolism, and hormones. One of the most straightforward answers is men, on average, weigh more than women. For the most part, weight is not taken into consideration when prescribing medications to women, therefore, many women are being prescribed higher dosages of medications than needed. Women also present symptoms differently than men for many illnesses, which causes women to be misdiagnosed more often than their male counterparts.
Top 5 medical misdiagnosis in women:
Women suffering heart disease present with symptoms vastly different than men, and it is the number-one killer of women in the United States, greater in fact, than all cancers combined. It is also the most misdiagnosed condition due to the nature of symptoms that present in women which can include: dizziness, heart palpitations and fatigue. It is difficult to correctly diagnose heart disease in women, specifically, because for the first 35 years heart disease was studied, it was only studied in men. At this point women’s symptoms are considered “atypical” and men’s are considered “normal symptoms.” Often, heart disease is misdiagnosed as anxiety or heartburn when symptoms present in women. These “atypical” symptoms include chest pain, nausea, and shortness of breath, which are all common symptoms of anxiety and heartburn.
Though heart disease is the number one killer for both men and women, women are much less likely to survive a heart attack than men. According to a 2016 American Heart Association statement, 26 percent of women will die within a year of a heart attack compared with just 19 percent of men. As time passes, the gap widens and nearly half of all women who have suffered a heart attack will die as opposed to 36 percent of men.
Thyroid disease is another commonly misdiagnosed disease due to the fact the symptoms are widely associated with a variety of health issues, including menopause. Common symptoms of thyroid disease are weight gain, weak nails, dry skin, aches and constipation. Especially if a woman is premenopausal, these symptoms are likely to be attributed to hormonal imbalances, or even depression. Because these symptoms can develop gradually over time, and can be attributed to other diseases or illnesses, doctors and healthcare professionals commonly misdiagnosed women experiencing them. Left untreated, thyroid disease can lead to obesity, joint pain, infertility, and heart disease.
Many types of cancer go misdiagnosed each year, disproportionately impacting women, which leads to patients receiving the wrong treatment, including, but not limited to: being prescribed the wrong medication, unnecessary surgical procedures, or a delay in treatment all together, which can have disastrous consequences. Cancers are often misdiagnosed as an infection, or other non-cancerous medical issues that have similar symptoms to cancer. Commonly misdiagnosed cancers in women include, breast cancer, ovarian cancer, throat cancer, and bladder cancer. These are often misdiagnosed due to the fact that the symptoms of these cancers often mimic other common issues such as bloating and fatigue.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
One of the most common symptoms women experience is fatigue. Fatigue is a difficult symptom to quantify, therefore it is often dismissed. The type of fatigue women experience as a symptom of chronic fatigue syndrome is that akin to pain, not to be confused with the feeling of being tired, as one does after a poor night’s sleep. One of the major reasons doctors dismiss this symptom is because it is difficult to communicate and quantify and doctors don’t trust women to correctly relate their symptoms. Because of this, women are often forced to seek out a second opinion to find the cause.
When treating a stroke successfully, the most effective treatments are incredibly time sensitive. This comes into play when the misdiagnosis of symptoms of a stroke can delay treatment. Women are misdiagnosed about 30% of the time which causes them to be sent home from the emergency room without the lifesaving treatment they may need. Not only are women more likely to be sent home without treatment, when properly diagnosed, tPA is the necessary “clot-busting” drug prescribed to treat a stroke and women are much less likely to receive this drug than men are.
How Miller & Wagner Can Help
The lawyers at Miller & Wagner specialize in medical malpractice due to misdiagnosis. If you or a member of your family were injured due to a misdiagnosis, contact an experienced medical malpractice attorney at Miller & Wagner today.