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International Womens’ Day – Sex Biases in Medical Care

International Womens’ Day – Sex Biases in Medical Care

April 22, 2024

Sex Biases in Healthcare

On International Women’s Day, it’s important to acknowledge societal strides in gender equality. 

However, as a clinic that provides elite level care to all, we are aware that there are still some biases in the medical and healthcare industries that impact how women are diagnosed and treated. It is important that this is also acknowledged and tackled.

This blog highlights what these are, what their impact is and some tips for women navigating these challenges. We really hope it helps.

This blog is written by our resident Health and Emotional Wellbeing Coach and yoga teacher, Sarah Richardson.

Western medicine has historically been male-centric, primarily due to several interrelated factors. These include societal norms, gender biases, and a lack of representation of women in clinical trials. 

It wasn’t until 1993 that women were required to be part of clinical trials, and even now they are underrepresented or excluded from some disease and drug research because of concerns about potential risks to women of child-bearing age. 

But this doesn’t stop the diseases themselves impacting women and the drugs being prescribed for women. So, what does this mean?

Firstly, it means that some of the drugs or treatments women are prescribed may not be as effective or as safe as they are for men. This is because physiological variables, such as the profound impact of hormones, are not fully considered, meaning that the absorption and metabolism of drugs are not fully understood. This can lead to drugs not working as well for women as for men, including pain medication.

Secondly, it means that the female presentation of certain diseases is different to male presentation, causing symptoms to be over looked or even dismissed. This can mean it can take longer for women to receive a diagnosis and effective treatment. 

Thirdly, it means that conditions that only impact women, or disproportionally impact women, are under researched and misunderstood. This includes conditions such as endometriosis, adenomyosis, PCOS and fibromyalgia. These conditions either have no ‘cure’ or offer limited treatment options based on very narrow proof that the treatment is effective.

Fourthly, it means pain in women is not taken as seriously as it is in men. This is because healthcare professionals can underestimate the intensity of women’s pain, dismiss the pain as psychological, or attribute it to anxiety or stress. 

So, how can women navigate these challenges? Below are some suggestions on how you can advocate for yourself when you feel you need to:

  1. Remember that your symptoms and any pain you are experiencing are real and that they should be treated as such. Don’t let medical professionals think they know you better than you do.
  1. Educate yourself on your body and your health. Knowledge is power. It will also help you become aware of these biases as and when they arise.
  1. Speak up! Don’t be afraid to voice your concerns and raise questions with medical and wellness professionals. If you feel dismissed or unheard, reassert any needs or concerns. Be as specific as you can. If you do not feel able to do so, bring along a loved one who may be more able to do so.
  1. Seek a second, third, fourth, fifth opinion if you still feel unseen or unheard. Sounds drastic but nothing is more important than advocating for your health.

At Health in Motion, we will never overlook or minimise anyone’s symptoms or concerns. We also engage in continual professional development to ensure we are up to date with latest practices and research. We know that more needs to be done for women in the healthcare sphere and we endeavour to do our part, not just on International Women’s Day!

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