Medicine Is Sexist — Here’s How

by Elissa Sanci

A recent article in Marie Claire explores that sexism in medicine is costing women their lives. The article, entitled “Women Are Dying Because Doctors Treat Us Like Men,” delves into the world of gender-biased medicine, revealing that female patients are often overlooked by healthcare professionals and their symptoms are rarely taken seriously. This lack of consideration leads to sometimes fatal misdiagnoses.

The problem is systematic —most medical research is conducted exclusively on male cells, male mice, and men, and medical students are trained by a curriculum that uses the average male body as a reference.

One doctor interviewed by Marie Claire, Dr. Marjorie Jenkins, called the practice of teaching one-sex medicine “the best-kept secret.”

The article reveals that for years, women’s medicine was referred to as “bikini medicine” because doctors and researchers believed that reproductive organs were the only thing that differentiated female anatomy from that of men. And although modern research shows that’s not the case, many health care professionals continue to discredit women who suffer from medical issues when they don’t show the typical male symptoms.

“Doctors fail to recognize women’s symptoms, which can differ widely from men’s,” writes Kayla Webley Adler, the article’s author. “Only one in eight female heart-attack patients report feeling chest pain, the classic warning sign in men; instead, 71 percent of women have flu-like symptoms.”

And it’s not just heart conditions that are overlooked–it’s all medical conditions. Many times, doctors tell women what they’re experiencing is all in their heads. Many are referred to psychiatrists. One woman, Lori Kupetz, was told she needed anti-depressants. She followed her gut, however, continuing on to another, then another doctor. Eventually, because of her persistence, she found doctors who conducted specialized tests, revealing three blocked arteries; she required triple-bypass surgery that saved her life.

The article also looked into studies that found that all women are at risk when it comes to medications because the required doses aren’t broken down by sex. Women metabolize drugs differently from men; because the doses aren’t labeled by gender, women have a 1.5 to 1.7 higher risk of negative side-effects.

Basically, the overall message of this article is plain and clear: be your own spokesperson. If you feel like there is something wrong, be persistent. If you’re told it’s all in your head, seek a second (and third and fourth opinion). No one knows you like you know you–don’t forget that.

(photo via

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