No one has ever called medicine an easy job, and there’s a reason why doctors spend a decade of their life merely preparing for their career. It’s one of the highest-pressure jobs, where people’s lives are quite literally in your hands. Often enough, it comes down to guesswork, as doctors don’t always have the tools to give a foolproof diagnosis, but missing the mark could potentially cause irreversible harm to the patient. This is why we should strive to make their jobs easier, by familiarizing ourselves with important symptoms and describing what we’re experiencing in the most accurate manner.
This is particularly true of conditions that are specific to women or that affect women at higher rates, as well as symptoms that are unique to women, as doctors are especially prone to misdiagnosis in these cases, and ruling a stroke or a heart attack out as a mild fever could very well mean death. If you feel like your doctor is giving you the wrong diagnosis, voice your concerns. If he or she do not budge, seek a second opinion.
Here are several conditions and their symptoms that you should definitely be aware of:
Strokes are among the leading causes of death and disability, and while you may be familiar with some of the general symptoms which may indicate an impending stroke, such as blurred eyesight in either or both eyes, numbness in one side of the body, garbled speech, problems comprehending speech and loss of balance and coordination, you may not be aware that there are other symptoms that are unique to women and are often misdiagnosed. Those include nausea, seizures, shortness of breath, painful and sudden hiccups, fainting and a general weakness.
Fibromyalgia is a medical condition that affects 2-8% of the population, with women being affected at twice the rate as men. Typical symptoms include chronic pain, tiredness, sleep deprivation and forgetfulness. As many of the symptoms are rather non-specific and characteristic of other conditions, it is often misdiagnosed. One telltale sign of fibromyalgia are specific points that are more sensitive to pain than others. A combination of these tender points might reflect fibromyalgia affliction: elbows, knees, buttocks, shoulders, chest, neck and the base of the skull.
Lyme disease is a particularly harsh infection that’s transmitted by ticks and can cause facial paralysis, severe brain damage and impairment of motor capabilities if left untreated. The most common and recognizable sign of Lyme is a dark rash where the tick bit into the skin, surrounded by a secondary “halo” rash, giving the appearance of a bull’s eye. But the rash doesn’t always look that way, and as many as 30% of people who contact Lyme disease don’t have any rash at all. Other symptoms have been likened to flu: headaches, stiffness, fever and discomfort.
Irritable bowel syndrome (or IBS) is a cause for much discomfort that can easily be confused with other conditions such as bowel inflammation, H. pylori infection, coeliac and parasites.
IBS is characterized by bloating, lack of appetite, gas, and irregular stools (either diarrhea or constipation). Women are three times more likely to be affected by IBS, and many report that the symptoms are worsened by menstruation.
Even as our world is progressing towards equality, there is still a lot more progress to be made, as misogyny is still very real and haunts women wherever they go, even in the field of medicine. Many women who complain to a doctor about experiencing symptoms of depression are treated as if it’s a “mood swing” that will fade in time. Depression is a very serious mental condition that can have various catalysts and can manifest in different ways, such as listlessness, fatigue, inability to savor things that would regularly bring you joy, social withdrawal, self-doubt and rumination over your shortcomings and more.
Endometriosis is a well-known condition that afflicts millions of women worldwide, yet for reasons unknown, doctors seem very hesitant to diagnose it. Endometriosis occurs when cells of the same type as the ovarian lining grow outside of the ovaries, it causes intense pelvic pain in many of the afflicted women. Around half of the afflicted women become infertile, with endometriosis being one of the leading causes of infertility. If all of this wasn’t bad enough, another common symptom is pain during intercourse. Although there is no cure for endometriosis, early diagnosis could help mitigate the symptoms, slow its progress and prevent infertility.
Lupus is an incurable, genetically-transmitted disease that shares many of its symptoms with other auto-immune diseases and conditions that afflict women at higher rates than men. Women are nine times more likely to contract lupus than men (though the prognosis tends to be worse for men afflicted). Lupus used to be considered a terminal disease, but these days, 90% of people living with lupus are able to live a full life. Because of the effective treatment, it is incredibly important to diagnose it in time. The most telltale sign of lupus is a rash over the nose and cheeks in a shape similar to a butterfly.
Heart attack is one of the most vicious killers around, and though the most common and obvious sign of a heart attack is chest pain, there are many other signs that have nothing to do with the chest, and women who go through cardiac arrest report experiencing those at a higher rate than men. These symptoms include: dizziness, unusual fatigue, sweat, nausea, shortness of breath and pain or discomfort in the jaw, neck, back, and either of the shoulders or arms.