Women’s reproductive issues: another thing for doctors to ignore

Chronicle reporter Melanie Lennon Photo credit: Melanie Lennon

There’s been very little talk of women’s reproductive issues recently. Besides the discussion around abortion in North America, common disorders and concerns are being ignored.

All around the world, women are suffering at the hands of those who have the power to help.

This is often the result of “health-care gaslighting,” according to Psychology Today, gaslighting is a tactic used to gain power, and make victims question their reality.

In this case, the tactic is being used to dissuade female patients with reproductive concerns from receiving proper help. An article from the Atlantic says, “many women have stories of medical practitioners dismissing, misdiagnosing, or cluelessly shrugging at their pain.”

Reproductive health is obviously a major issue, but it seems like doctors aren’t taking the matter as seriously as they should be.

The lack of awareness, education and overall ignorance around the matter is leading to confusion. In turn, many medical concerns, such as Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis are underdiagnosed.

One of the most common hormonal endocrine disorders is PCOS.

The syndrome can be linked to cysts on the ovaries, hence the name, but that’s not always the case. A woman can have PCOS without having any cysts at all.

According to the Canadian Women’s Health Network, other symptoms include irregular periods or no periods at all (amenorrhea), thinning hair, excess hair all over the body and face (hirsutism), acne, weight gain, anxiety, depression, increased blood sugar and/or infertility.

It’s quite the list, and it differs from woman to woman. Since the symptoms are so diverse, doctors often overlook the underlying issues and single out three in particular: weight gain, acne, and excess body hair.

If these side effects aren’t seen, the woman’s other pressing issues are commonly ignored.

Approximately 2 million Canadian women suffer from PCOS and roughly 50 per cent of those cases go undiagnosed, according to Canadian Living.

PCOS is the leading cause of female infertility, and is often associated with miscarriages. Resolve says women usually only receive a diagnosis after struggling to get pregnant.

This means many women are struggling longer than they should be, without any explanation from their doctor.

Besides infertility, untreated PCOS can lead to a wide range of serious health conditions. According to the PCOS Awareness Association, these include diabetes mellitus, stroke and cardiovascular disease, uterine and endometrial cancers, as well as distress caused by physical changes like acne, and depression.

Yet, PCOS isn’t the only undertreated reproductive disorder among women.

Endometriosis, a condition in which tissue similar to the inner lining of the uterus grows along the outside of the organ, affects one in 10 women, according to the Endometriosis Network Canada.

Much like PCOS, endometriosis has a wide array of symptoms which differ from person to person. According to Know Your Endo, these include painful periods, bloating, chronic pain, excessive bleeding, nausea and infertility.

However, the same organization also says it takes an average of 10 years and eight doctors for a woman to receive a diagnosis, despite the severity of the symptoms. It’s often misdiagnosed with appendicitis, ovarian cancer, fibroids and irritable bowel syndrome.

Women often face a system that’s ill-equipped to correctly diagnose and treat endometriosis, which causes crippling pain for many.

It’s the type of agony that disrupts one’s day and interferes with work, schooling and relationships. A delayed diagnosis means unnecessary suffering and less time to begin treatment, which often has serious repercussions on fertility, according to Self.

Women all around the world are experiencing various reproductive disorders, including both PCOS and endometriosis, only to be told their pain is invalid when they try to make a change.

Women know their bodies.

It’s time doctors start listening.