Written by Guest Blogger: Susan Salenger, an author and researcher behind SIDELINED.
So many women have told me stories about how dissatisfied they were with their doctor visits. Some were misdiagnosed, many felt unheard, and several asked questions that remain unanswered today. And many felt their symptoms were tossed automatically into the “It’s all in your pretty little head. Just get over it” basket.
Throughout my discussions, these women mentioned menopause as an example of their symptoms being too easily dismissed. And the research supports their feelings. A recent article by Rachel E. Gross in The New York Times reports that millions of women go through menopause with undiagnosed, very treatable symptoms, and my research concurs.
According to The Times, there’s an over-focus on the vagina. I particularly enjoy the the diagnosis of “vaginal atrophy.” When I hear it, I visualize my poor vagina drying out as it flies around in some menopausal miasma. But the real problem with such a vaginal focus is that it easily obscures that other symptoms, such as urinary problems, are often related to menopause.
Whether your symptoms come from menopause, autoimmune diseases, chronic pain, an autoimmune disease, or whatever, my point is that sometimes it’s
difficult for women to feel heard and get an accurate diagnosis. When you believe your health or instincts are not being validated, it’s important you stop for a moment and think how best to gain the information you need.
Here are a few tips that can help you when you visit your doctor:
- Write down your symptoms and bring the list to the doctor. Prioritize them and list the worst ones first. The list will help you focus the visit so that it goes in the direction you want it to.
- When you receive a diagnosis, ask the doctor, “In your experience, besides disease X, what else could this possibly be?” So many different diseases share many of the same symptoms. You want to be sure your diagnosis is accurate.
- Repeat back in your own words what you heard the doctor say. Repeating what you heard allows you to be sure you understood correctly. It also allows your doctor to be sure they said what they meant to say and the ability to confirm that you heard accurately.
- Ask your doctor to write down the clinical name of the diseases they’re considering. If you have access to a computer, go home and look them up. See if you think your symptoms fit and be sure you are comfortable with the diagnosis.
- If you can, try to take someone with you. Another pair of ears is always helpful. Sometimes, I ask the doctor if recording our visit is okay. Then, when I get home, I can listen to the recording to be sure I didn’t miss anything.
- Whatever you do, don’t introduce a new item as the doctor begins to leave the room. That’s not fair to them or you.
- And, if you are not sure what you are hearing makes sense, don’t be ashamed to go for a second opinion. You are not doubting your doctor, you are confirming that your diagnosis is accurate. You don’t want to be treated for a disease you don’t have.
Following these suggestions will allow you to take charge of the visit, ensure all your concerns are addressed, and that you understand fully what you were told. Remember, you only have one body and you are in control of your health. So take good care of it. You need to be in charge.
Susan Salenger is the author and researcher behind SIDELINED: How Women Can Navigate A Broken Healthcare System. Sidelined examines the many ways in which some women manage and sometimes mismanage their healthcare.
Susan explores how women, typically the medical gatekeepers for their families, tend to be extremely conscientious about taking care of themselves, yet at the same time inadvertently undermine their own care. They often hesitate to call the doctor when they don’t feel well and worry that their doctor visit will take time away from their families or work. They may hesitate to ask doctors the necessary questions and don’t always comply with the doctor’s instructions. Salenger’s research reveals how conflicted many women are about the medical decisions they ultimately make.
P.S. Catch Susan’s interview in this week’s episode of The Hormone P.U.Z.Z.L.E Podcast – How Not to Be Sidelined When It Comes to Your Health When TTC. You can also find the episode on this podcast page as well as Spotify, and Stitcher. Don’t forget to subscribe, follow, and write us a review on Apple Podcast (if you LOVE it).