Women who have spent months or years trying to conceive a child without success often feel anger, confusion and stress.
There are many reasons why they may be unable to conceive, and they often entrust the expertise of their doctor to create a plan for success.
Unfortunately, many women do not have the luxury of their healthcare provider’s full attention to create a customized fertility path. An increasing number of women are raising their hands for help from their medical professionals and realizing that they have experienced medical gaslighting, affecting their fertility journey and overall health.
It is important that women take their fertility journey into their own hands to ensure transparency and accuracy while trying to conceive.
What is Medical Gaslighting and Why Does it Matter?
Gaslighting is a term that describes psychological abuse involving an individual who convinces someone to question their own mental sanity, memories or perception of reality.
General practitioner and writer, Sarah Fraser, MD, explains the use of medical gaslighting, stating, “Gaslighting has been used by physicians to dismiss women’s health problems, enforcing the misogynist stereotype that women are irrational and ‘hysterical,’ a prejudice that dates back centuries.”
Not only does this matter due to the misogynistic nature of the concept, but it genuinely affects women’s health outcomes and experiences. One study published in Academic Emergency Medicine found that women who went to the emergency room (ER) with severe stomach pain had to wait nearly 33% longer than men with the same symptoms.
Research suggests that some form of diagnostic error occurs in every one of seven clinical encounters, with most being preventable. Further, most of these mistakes are driven by the physician’s lack of knowledge.
Medical gaslighting affects women facing chronic illnesses and those experiencing infertility. It is time to address the history, prevalence, symptoms and causes of medical gaslighting, and spread awareness of how to avoid it to better your personal health journey.
How Can Medical Gaslighting Impact Your Fertility Journey?
Many women may feel overwhelmed when facing unforeseen medical diagnoses to begin with. The sense of hopelessness when women are unable to conceive due to physical health issues can be detrimental to their mental health, especially due to the pressure put upon women to conceive children.
When medical gaslighting occurs in women’s healthcare, it can mean the difference between fertility and infertility, unnecessary medical bills over long periods of time and the overall wellbeing of women.
The Link Between Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) and Fertility
Polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) can lead to serious health problems, such as diabetes and heart disease. Most women with the disease are insulin-resistant and have a higher level of androgens (male hormones) in their bodies.
Despite the fact that PCOS was first researched and identified in 1935, many doctors still do not recognize the symptoms. The CDC has estimated that PCOS affects between 6% and 12% of adult women in the United States.
If not diagnosed and treated, a lasting effect of PCOS is infertility, making it one of the most common causes of infertility. When medical gaslighting occurs for women with undiagnosed PCOS, the time it takes to finally receive treatment can negatively change the path of their fertility journey.
The Reproductive Stigma Put Upon Women
Infertility often continues to be perceived as a “woman’s problem,” despite the fact that in 20% of infertile couples, the problem is with the male partner alone. This stigma also prevents men from getting fertility tests early on in their journey, when the benefits are most impactful.
When men are also tested early on in their fertility journey, it can save women emotional hardship from medical gaslighting and overall cost of fertility treatment.
Using Age as an Excuse to Dismiss Fertility Issues
Although it is now more common for individuals to conceive naturally into their mid-thirties,
fertility difficulties still increase with age. However, age is a common “excuse” for medical providers, dismissing other potential causes of infertility among women and men in their thirties.
Provider Pushback on Fertility Testing
A survey of physicians and dentists shows that many of these professionals believed that women exaggerate their pain, even though 40% of the professionals surveyed are women.
This may be a reason for providers recommending against fertility testing, even when women feel that something is wrong.
Overall, such gender biases can lead to women having less trust in their healthcare providers and being more reluctant to ask their doctor for additional medical testing, which can further delay necessary treatment routes.
How to Avoid Medical Gaslighting
To minimize medical gaslighting:
Seek a second opinion and ask to be referred to a specialist. With more expert opinions, women are less likely to have their symptoms be dismissed by providers.
Keep documentation of ongoing symptoms and tests requested by your doctor. This keeps your conversations productive and symptom-specific when discussing treatment plans.
Do not feel guilty looking for another provider if you feel that you are not being heard, or feel uncomfortable with the responses and treatment plan from your doctor.
Take Control of Your Health with At-Home Fertility Testing
With increased awareness of medical gaslighting, there are also increasing resources women can utilize to ensure they are receiving accurate, transparent healthcare information for their fertility care, including at-home fertility tests.
Accurate Fertility Testing from IHD
Innovative Health Diagnostics (IHD) empowers every person by providing access to accurate fertility testing when and where it matters most. We deliver testing directly to patients so they can take control of their health and be armed with knowledge, as they discuss results and options with healthcare providers.
Prevent and overcome medical gaslighting with IHD’s at-home fertility tests:
Contact IHD today and get the medical transparency everyone deserves.