Your Symptoms Are Real: How to Advocate For Yourself And Be Heard

Have you ever left your doctors office and felt that they didn’t listen to your worries about your health, or dismissed your concerns? If so, you aren’t alone; in fact, 71% of women reported feeling dismissed or not taken seriously by medical professionals when asked by the Washington Post about their experiences. 

Navigating women’s health – especially hormone related issues – can feel challenging for many of us. From irregular and painful periods, to conditions such as endometriosis and even perimenopausal symptoms that affect our mood, sleep and ability to function properly, our hormones are often the foundation to many issues experienced by women and impact our daily life. So the last thing we need, when seeking support with those problems, is feeling like it’s an uphill battle simply to have our symptoms validated and managed.

Is it ‘all in your head’?

But is it all in your head, as women are too often told? This is a form of ‘medical gaslighting’, which disproportionately affects more women than men when seeking support for pain or health concerns.

Medical gaslighting is where healthcare providers dismiss or invalidate a woman’s symptoms or concerns, leading us to doubt our own experiences and perceptions of our health and often treated like the issue is ‘all in our heads’. For those of us experiencing conditions like endometriosis, adenomyosis and PCOS, this feeling of not being heard will be only too familiar. Oftentimes, the reason for this is simply a lack of knowledge of women’s health, our gynaecology and hormonal health and unfortunately, the exclusion of women in drug and health research for too long.

Is ‘White Coat Syndrome’ leaving you anxious?

And then, there’s the issue of ‘White Coat Syndrome’, a phenomenon where people experience a sense of trepidation or anxiety when visiting their doctor or medical provider. It can exacerbate feelings of intimidation, and make effective communication really hard – so recognizing the signs of White Coat Syndrome and understanding ways to overcome it is really important.

How the Gender Pain Gap affects you

Lastly, we know that there is a huge gender gap when it comes to women’s health, with funding for research still lacking and as previously mentioned, the exclusion of women in reproductive years from studies. But have you heard of the Gender Pain Gap? This articulates the discrepancy in the way women and men are believed, historically, to manage pain with women’s experiences often downplayed. You might have experienced this in lesser ways rather than when reporting pain to your doctor – for example, women are often offered over-the-counter pain relief for procedures such as IUD insertion – due to the misguided belief that the cervix  is insensitive (despite many women attesting to the opposite!).

As an aside, the recent advancement of the ‘male IUD’, Contraline, was approved for anaesthesia during insertion to the penis to mitigate pain. And if you are still thinking that well, the cervix is ‘wider’, then it’s worth checking out these images of what the cervix actually looks like. Familiar, huh?

This discrepancy can significantly impact women’s ability to advocate for themselves, particularly when dealing with hormone conditions – for example, endometriosis and similar conditions.

This leaves women in somewhat of a Catch 22 situation though, doesn’t it? It can feel like a battle to be heard – but it doesn’t need to be that way. So how can we better advocate for ourselves, and ensure that our doctor is listening when we report symptoms and pain?

Here’s Hormone University’s top 5 tips to get your doctor to REALLY listen

1. Educate yourself:

The foundation of Hormone University itself! Before your appointment, research your symptoms and potential hormone imbalances – our search function on our website will help you find the most suitable articles. Other reliable sources such as medical journals and reputable websites like Mayo Clinic or WebMD can provide valuable insights. Use our Hormone Dictionary to help understand medical jargon and terminology, too. Armed with knowledge, you’ll be better equipped to communicate effectively with your doctor and advocate for your needs.

2. Keep a symptom journal

Document your symptoms, including their frequency, severity, and any patterns you notice. You don’t need anything fancy; a diary, a notebook or even your phone notes or calendar will serve as a valuable resource during your appointment, providing concrete evidence of your hormone health concerns. Additionally, tracking your symptoms over time can help you and your doctor identify potential patterns or triggers in line with events throughout the month such as lifestyle factors, hormone imbalance, stress triggers and diet.

3. Don’t be afraid to be assertive

When discussing your hormone health with your doctor, be assertive and clear about your concerns. Don’t hesitate to advocate for yourself and express any discomfort or dissatisfaction with your current treatment plan. Use “I” statements to communicate how your symptoms are impacting your daily life and emphasize the importance of finding a solution.

4. Seek second opinions

If you feel like your concerns are being dismissed or invalidated by your current doctor, don’t hesitate to seek a second opinion. Consulting with another healthcare professional can provide fresh perspectives and alternative treatment options. Remember, you have the right to advocate for your health and find a doctor who listens to and respects your concerns.

5. Surround yourself with support

Surround yourself with supportive friends, family members, or online communities who understand and validate your experiences. Having a strong support system can bolster your confidence and provide emotional support as you navigate your hormone health journey. Additionally, consider seeking out healthcare providers who specialize in women’s health or hormone imbalances, as they may be more attuned to your needs and concerns.

Do you struggle to advocate for yourself with your doctor? Come and share your experiences in our Hormone University’s Facebook community. 

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