7 posts in the category “Food for thought”

Is there a medical gender gap? The not-so-brief history of sexism in medicine

Posted March 27th, 2018 by

As Women’s History Month comes to a close, take a look at the gender gap in health care and how the centuries-old notion of “hysteria” may still taint women’s experiences today.

History of “hysteria”

Turns out, there’s nearly 4,000 years worth of evidence that people believed women’s illnesses stemmed from the uterus or sexual issues.

  • An Egyptian papyrus dating from about 1900 B.C.E. includes recipes for medicines to coax a ‘wandering uterus’ back to its proper place in the body.
  • The ancient Greek philosopher Plato described the uterus as an animal, which roamed inside women’s bodies, causing symptoms as it moved.
  • In the Middle Ages, many believed in humoural medicine, which linked so-called “hysterical symptoms” to the retention of “sexual fluid” in women.
  • During the late 1800s, belief and scientific interest in hysteria reached a fever pitch. French neurologist Jean-Martin Charcot proposed that hysteria was a nerve disease similar to multiple sclerosis and not unique to women. Sigmund Freud argued that hysteria was rooted in “unconscious conflicts” or embarrassment, which converted into bodily symptoms. He called this “conversion hysteria.”

In the early 1900s, hysteria got lumped under the broad category of “neurosis” and the term gradually fell out of medical use but the concept still lingered in broader culture, according to the British Science Museum.

Present day sexism

Writer Maya Dusenbery, who has rheumatoid arthritis, makes the case that sexism still haunts modern medicine in a new book called Doing Harm: The Truth about How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick.

Here are some key stats and dates she cites:

  • Three-quarters of the estimated 50 million Americans with autoimmune diseases are women; patients with autoimmune diseases see an average of four doctors over four years before they receive the correct diagnosis, and nearly half report being labeled “chronic complainers” during their search (see our recent report on the diagnosis “lag time” for PatientsLikeMe members with various conditions)
  • Researchers understand far less about women’s biology because of a scientific gender gap. Up until 1993, the National Institutes of Health wasn’t required to track how many women were included in the research it funded with federal taxpayer dollars. Women (particularly those of childbearing age) were often excluded from clinical trials because of “a paternalistic concern about the risks to them and their future offspring” and because “researchers found it easier to study only men” — and even research on animals used (cheaper) male mice.
  • In addition to the research gap, there’s also still a “trust gap” in medicine, Dusenbery says. “While the term ‘hysteria’ has fallen by the wayside, the concept has remained alive and well,” she says, noting that other terms that have taken its place include: Briquet’s syndrome, somatization, conversion disorder, psychosomatic, psychogenic, and functional symptoms. About 70 percent of those with “medically unexplained symptoms” (today’s popular phrase that often implies “somatized emotional distress”) are women.

Some patients are raising their voices about these gaps. Documentary filmmaker Jennifer Brea, who has chronic fatigue syndrome (also known as myalgic encephalomyelitis, or ME), addresses the trust gap in her recent film Unrest and her TED Talk, “What happens when you have a disease doctors can’t diagnose.” And some conditions that are far more common among female patients, such as lupus, are finally getting more attention from researchers.

But Dusenbery wonders how many countless women have fallen through the cracks of these gaps in the system. “The harm done by medicine’s gender bias is difficult to quantify but staggering to consider.”

Have you experienced gender bias in your medical treatment? Join PatientsLikeMe today to connect with 392,150 women living with health conditions.

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Food for thought: Which foods trigger headaches and migraines?

Posted June 23rd, 2016 by

Last week, we shared some study results for National Migraine and Headache Awareness Month. Today, we’re digging deeper into which foods might trigger – or help – chronic headaches. We asked the community for their diet dos and don’ts, and here’s what members have said so far…

 

“I have found too much sugar can trigger a migraine. But then at the same time, in the past when I have had a migraine, If I drank a Mountain Dew (regular) and ate salty potato chips it would help alleviate it.  I believe it was the salt and caffeine that helped.” 

— PatientsLikeMe member living with chronic kidney disease

 

“I have noticed an incredible difference dropping sugar from my diet along with dairy. Am now using Stevia and there are many alternatives to milk products.”

 —PatientsLikeMe member living with rheumatoid arthritis

 

“I have suffered migraines for more than 35 years… At one point, I was having migraines that were non-stop for three to five months at a time. One of my biggest triggers was fish. The only fish that I can eat anymore is salmon and tuna. I can eat shrimp in small amounts but absolutely nothing else.”

— PatientsLikeMe member living with fibromyalgia

 

Which foods set off your headaches or migraines? Head over to the forum and share your experiences with the community.

 

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