5 mistakes women make at the doctor’s office

By Elizabeth Cohen
CNN Medical Correspondent
May 15, 2008

Speak up in your doctor’s office, experts urge and if you tend to freeze up, take along a friend who can ask questions for you

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) — For 10 years, Barbara’s gut told her she needed to get a new doctor for her daughter, and for 10 years, she didn’t listen, even as her daughter got sicker and sicker.

The doctor had diagnosed irritable bowel syndrome when Barbara’s daughter was 13. Day after day, year after year, she had bloody diarrhea.

At age 23, weighing just 112 pounds at 6 feet tall, her daughter became so sick and malnourished she ended up in the hospital. Barbara’s intuition told her the doctor wasn’t giving her daughter the right treatment, but she just couldn’t tell him.

“It was like my tongue was bolted to my bottom mouth, and I couldn’t get the words out. I didn’t want to offend him. I was paralyzed,” said Barbara, a high-ranking university administrator.

“I’m well-educated. I have a Ph.D. I make decisions easily, and I say ‘no’ easily. But in this situation, it was like I had a different personality. I felt like I’d reverted to childhood,” she added.

Research on women’s interaction with doctors is limited, but a number of women’s health experts say they had noticed trends among female patients that didn’t see as frequently in men.

Feeling paralyzed and voiceless in the doctor’s office is one of the major health care mistakes women make, says Dr. Christiane Northrup, author of “Women’s Bodies, Women’s Wisdom: Creating Physical and Emotional Health and Healing.”

“Even very well-educated women freeze up and don’t speak up” in some cases, she said.

Here, from Northrup and other women’s health specialists, are five mistakes women make at the doctor’s office.

1. Women don’t question doctors

“Being at a doctor’s office often puts the patient in the position of ‘child’ and the doctor in a position of ‘parent,’ ” Northrup said.

Northrup’s solution: “Always take someone with you who will ask the questions you are afraid to ask.”

When you’re alone, Robin DiMatteo, a distinguished professor of psychology at the University of California, Riverside, has this suggestion. “Say to the doctor, ‘I realize I don’t have the medical skills that you do, but this doesn’t make sense to me logically. Can we think this through together?’ ”

2. Women tend to over-research

According to the Pew Internet Project, women are more likely to look up health information on the Internet. In a telephone survey, 69 percent of women said they’d looked up information about a specific disease or condition, compared with 58 percent of men.

Although doing your own research is a good thing, Dr. Pamela Peeke says her female patients are more likely to become overwhelmed by what they read.

“Women are much more likely to come in with hundreds of pages of Internet printouts under their arms, and they’ve become convinced they have all sorts of diseases,” she said.

The solution: Some experts recommend doing research on the Internet and writing down the most important points rather than carrying in numerous printouts. That way, you can have a more focused conversation with your doctor.

3. Women don’t recognize gender bias

Several studies have shown that women’s medical problems are more likely to be interpreted as emotional issues or complaining.

“You should recognize that there is doctor bias,” advised Dr. Nieca Goldberg, author of “Women are Not Small Men.” “You don’t want to go to a doctor who says, ‘Now, honey, it’s not all that bad.’ ”

To continue reading:   http://www.cnn.com/2008/HEALTH/05/14/ep.women.mistakes/index.html

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