Health Science

Dismissed And Ignored: The Other Health Crisis Facing Women

The dangerous, unconscious bias that puts you at the bottom of the waiting list.

By Natalie Cornish

Health Science

The dangerous, unconscious bias that puts you at the bottom of the waiting list.

By Natalie Cornish

Women’s bodies have long been the subject of medical conjecture. Hysteria was a genuine medical condition until the 1950s, and once the go-to diagnosis for any woman with unexplained symptoms such as nervousness, weakness, irritability or sexual promiscuity which often resulted in admission to an asylum. Women were considered a sub-group to men in clinical trials for much of the twentieth century; and female-only conditions such as endometriosis (a chronic condition where uterus tissue grows externally) went largely ignored by researchers for decades.

Sadly, this gender bias is still costing lives. A recent Australian study found women are half as likely as men to receive life-saving treatment after a heart attack; while British research from 2015 showed women often have to wait longer than their male counterparts for a cancer diagnosis. Women of colour are at an even higher risk. Black women are twice as likely to have a stroke than white women, and have a higher chance of having their breast cancer symptoms missed. Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander women can also expect to live 17.2 years less than most Australian women, dying —  on average —  at just 64. Indeed, Swedish research shows women will often wait longer than men in emergency departments to be seen by a physician. They are also less likely to be considered an urgent case. A number of deaths, including that of a young French mother who suffered a stroke and multiple organ failure after having her acute pain dismissed by an emergency services operator, have been directly attributed to gender bias or sexism.  

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