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6 Things Doctors Often Say to Women, but Not to Men

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I have Dercum’s disease, an extremely rare condition that is predominantly found in females. I belong to multiple support groups on Facebook, like this one. I have known for a long time that women are treated differently than men are by medical providers, and these differences in treatment (or should I say lack of treatment) are hurtful and dangerous. I am try to offer women who have my rare disease a different point of view, and as I sadly have found, some women are so conditioned to being talked to in a condescending tone, they may not even be aware providers treat them unfairly.

These are some phrases women have written in to our support groups that doctors have said to them:

1. “It’s just nerves.” This might be true, but not in the demeaning way doctors often say it to women. Just so you know, I have never had a doctor tell me this.

2. “You just need to lose weight.” This is one of the most “empty” things doctors can say, and again, I do need to lose weight, but doctors have never told me so.

3. “You just need to relax.” What does that mean? I see my friends who are women say often tell me a doctor or nurse has said this to them. I’ve never had a doctor say that to me.

4. “Take a hot bath.” How in the world would a doctor say this in response to something that has nothing to do with a woman’s hygiene? Once more, a doctor has never said this to me.

5. “Are you on your period?” I learned early in life, because I grew up with a mom and several sisters, to never ask “are you on your period or are you having PMS?” I think at a doctor’s appointment, this may be a legitimate question if you are seeing a medical provider for something along those lines, but often this is not the intent of doctors when they ask.

6. “When was the last time you had sex?” This one always surprises me that a medical provider would ask this, unless your visit was to the gynecologist. Again, I don’t get asked this often.

As a man, I have never heard or rarely hear most of these things from doctors. I think you can see a pattern. Doctors and medical providers often make women feel that everything they are feeling is somehow “in their heads” and not worthy of a doctor actually looking into their symptoms. I have heard and read multiple times about how a woman was really sick and doctors not taking them seriously caused some very severe medical emergencies. Even the ER staff is guilty of this sexist behavior. I have had friends who miscarried, friends that died from breast cancer, or other cancers that worsened due to a doctor not taking a woman seriously. I guess I should not be shocked, but I am.

Dercum’s disease, being a disease that predominantly affects women, has taught me a great deal about how women are ignored or not taken seriously. I do my best to point out these types of things when women in support groups write them and might not be aware they are being discriminated against.

If you suspect that Dercum’s disease might be the cause of your symptoms, the following are helpful links with more information: NORD: Dercum’s disease and lipedema.

Originally published: July 11, 2018
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