Women's Health and the Misdiagnosis Issue

It goes without saying that there are important biological differences between men and women. Similarly, the way in which they each manifest certain symptoms or metabolize medication ought to ensure the scientific research centered around such factors.

However, women remained generally underrepresented until the 1990s wherein Congress passed into law the NIH Revitalization Act of 1993.

The NIH Revitalization Act ensured that women and minorities were included in all clinical research. Yet, twenty-six years after its enactment, women continuously find themselves victims of misdiagnosis, delays, and blatant disregard for their medical concerns.

According to the American Autoimmune Related Disease Association, women make up 75 percent of those suffering from an autoimmune disease, taking an average five years to be properly diagnosed. Similarly, women have a 50 percent higher chance of getting an incorrect diagnosis of heart disease. 

Though difficult to pinpoint specific reasons, it is possible that the harboring of ingrained prejudices amongst other institutional problems such as, overlapping symptoms or the lack of research, play a key role in their misdiagnosis.

Dr. Betty Diamond from the Institute for Medical Research in Manhasset NY stated that symptoms for many autoimmune diseases are often non-specific, making it difficult to develop a diagnosis on the first try. Comparatively, women’s heart attack symptoms appear differently, moresubtly, and are strikingly similar to panic attacks.  

Katherine Sherif director of the women’s care unit at the Jefferson University Hospital in Philadelphia believes the minimization of women’s concerns is “unconscious,” but societal sexism is to blame. According to a 2016 study by Dr. Marjorie Jenkins, only 34.5 percent of medical students felt prepared to manage sex and gender differences. 

This misdiagnosis issue is so widespread that celebrities like Serena Williams and Lena Dunham have found themselves in similar situations. Upon the birth of her daughter in 2017, Williams found her health concerns being disregarded as confusion caused by pain medication; when in fact, Williams was suffering from a pulmonary embolism.

Similarly, Dunham recalls her concerns being repeatedly downplayed until she had a hysterectomy at 31. At last, doctors confirmed that her uterus was “worse than anyone could have imagined.” 

For decades, the male body was the standard in medical research, nonetheless, recent technological advancements should strive to ensure women receive the same standard of care readily available to men. The misdiagnosis crisis affects even the most well-known celebrities, if it can happen to someone like Serena Williams, it can most certainly affect the average woman.

If you or a loved one has suffered grave or permanent injury as a result of someone’s inadequate and negligent care, contacts us at O’Connor, Parsons, Lane & Noble to schedule a free consultation with a medical malpractice attorney.

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