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Amy Schumer's Instagram Post Nails the Gender Disparity in Medical Research

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On Tuesday, comedian and actress Amy Schumer shared a photo on Instagram of herself walking with husband Chris Fischer. Schumer, who announced she was pregnant with her first child in October, commented that she is still “heavily pregnant” and flaunting her “growing bump.”

“Amy is still pregnant and puking because money rarely goes to medical studies for women such as hyperemesis or endometriosis and instead goes to things like dicks not getting hard enough or old guys who want harder dicks,” she added.

Schumer has been outspoken about the symptoms and obstacles she’s experienced during her pregnancy. In November she shared a photo of herself in the hospital due to hyperemesis gravidarum (HG), a pregnancy complication characterized by constant nausea and vomiting, weight loss, dehydration and occasionally metabolic changes. While the majority of women may experience vomiting or “morning sickness” during the first trimester, hyperemesis gravidarum affects a smaller percentage of women and can be more severe, leading to fluid and electrolyte imbalances and nutritional deficiencies.

In March, Schumer released a comedy special on Netflix called “Growing,” in which she doesn’t shy away from joking about the nitty-gritty reality of pregnancy.

“I didn’t know that being pregnant could be really hard,” she said. “I didn’t know that. Because you bitches all lie about it. Women don’t tell you how hard it is. I should’ve Googled it. I should’ve googled being pregnant, because it’s been really awful… I throw up an ‘Exorcist’ amount every day.”

Despite Schumer’s sense of humor about her situation, the issue she raised in Tuesday’s Instagram post is serious: There is a major disparity in the amount of research and treatments available for women’s health issues vs. men’s health issues, and this can have devastating consequences for anyone born female.

Gender biases have played a role in women’s healthcare (or lack thereof) for centuries. Throughout history, women have been diagnosed with “hysteria” or told their physical symptoms are due to mental illness. Some still believe women are “exaggerating,” “being dramatic” or are “just too sensitive” when they express concerns about symptoms.

When women’s health issues aren’t taken seriously, this can translate into a systemic lack of research, funding and treatment options for conditions that primarily affect women.

“I started calling this issue the trust gap as I started reading research and learning of anecdotes from women who were having a hard time getting diagnosed,” Maya Dusenbery, author of “Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick,” told Greater Good Magazine.

Their symptoms were being dismissed or minimized, there was an implication that their physical symptoms were all in their heads, and they were simply being offered anti-depressants or told they were ‘making their symptoms up’ to get attention. … If collectively the field of medicine has this idea – that if a symptom doesn’t seem to be explained by a physical disease, you can blame it on the patient’s psychological problems – then they’re just not going to do the scientific research that’s required to explain those symptoms in biological terms.

The conditions that are underresearched (and thus underdiagnosed and undertreated) may often include issues related to reproduction and fertility, like the hyperemesis gravidarum Schumer has experienced. Though there are several ways women can manage the symptoms of HG, experts still do not know what causes it or how to prevent it.

Many reproductive health concerns are notoriously difficult to get diagnosed and taken seriously. Endometriosis, for instance, takes an average of seven years to diagnose after the onset of symptoms, even though the disease is common, affecting 1 in 10 women. Endo is a chronic condition in which tissue similar to the lining of the uterus is found outside the uterus, on parts of the body like the ovaries, fallopian tubes, or even the bladder or bowel. According to the Society for Women’s Health Research, endometriosis is underfunded and underresearched in part because of the normalization of women’s pain and the stigma around menstrual issues.

However, the gender disparity in healthcare extends beyond issues affecting the reproductive system. Women are disproportionately affected by a number of conditions including chronic pain and autoimmune disease, and research and funding are severely lacking in both these areas.

Even when we consider the research that is done into certain conditions, it is often biased heavily toward men. Though 70 percent of people with chronic pain are women, 80 percent of the studies about pain are conducted on men. One study found that women are seven times more likely to be misdiagnosed and discharged in the middle of a heart attack because so much of the research done into heart attacks focuses primarily on the symptoms men experience.

When we don’t invest time, money or resources into learning about the conditions that afflict women, how can we expect doctors to be able to diagnose us – much less provide us with the medications or treatments we may need to function and improve our quality of life?

As Schumer wrote in her post, women will continue to struggle unnecessarily with pain, health complications and unpleasant symptoms as long as medical research is weighted more towards men’s health than women’s health.

This needs to change. Women deserve better.

Image via Creative Commons/El Grillo Amarillo

Originally published: April 24, 2019
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