Viral tweet highlights the maddening ways women’s health concerns are dismissed by doctors

Woman visiting doctor with viral tweet overlay
Solskin/Getty/Emma Bolden/Twitter

Women’s health concerns are dismissed far more often than male patients—ask any woman you know about a time she felt gaslighted by the medical community, and you’ll likely receive more than one answer. A recent viral tweet highlights the maddening ways concerns can be dismissed when it comes to women’s health, and it’s resonating with women everywhere.

Author Emma Bolden shared her very frustrating experience at a doctor’s office recently on Twitter.

“In completely normal news, a doctor just told me I’m not in pain due to a herniated disc compressing my sciatic nerve and spinal bone spurs but … because I’m emotionally damaged because i had a hysterectomy before i had children and never got married.”

She shared that the doctor was condescending to her about being childless, insisting she couldn’t understand her own feelings about not having kids, being unmarried, and not having a uterus (Bolden has endometriosis and previously underwent a hysterectomy).

The tweet shortly took off because 1.) The AUDACITY on display here, and 2.) Because, unfortunately, lots of other women could relate to Bolden’s experience in regard to their own health concerns being dismissed.

“I was honestly stunned to see that this tweet resonated with so many people,” Bolden tells Motherly. “I wrote it in a hurry when I got home from my appointment, mostly to just get the poison out, in a manner of speaking. I didn’t expect to get many views or comments, and I was absolutely shocked when I logged back into Twitter—or, rather, shocked at first, and then heartbroken.”

She says this wasn’t the first time she’s been dismissed by a medical professional. She’s written a forthcoming memoir, The Tiger and the Cage,” about her life with endometriosis. She hopes open dialogues about awful experiences like hers can help others feel less alone.

Bolden says grappling with medical problems like endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, fibroids, and adenomyosis made her feel like it was socially unacceptable to talk about her health.

“It felt as though my body itself was a dark secret I had to keep quiet in order to survive,” she explains. “And it’s this social silencing, I think, that makes it possible for doctors to dismiss women’s symptoms, testimonies, and experiences so often.”

Recent research commissioned by athenahealth shows that women have felt even more dismissed by their healthcare providers during the pandemic. In the survey, 64 percent of female respondents reported increased stress and/or anxiety levels during the pandemic, and 52 percent felt their anxiety translated into a physical health concern, such as bad eating and exercise habits.

At the same time, 54 percent of women and 67 percent of millennials said they had health concerns they didn’t bring up to their doctor due to the fear of appearing “anxious, dramatic or silly.”

One study published in Academic Emergency Medicine found that women who went to the emergency room (ER) with severe stomach pain had to wait for almost 33% longer than men with the same symptoms.

Bolden’s experience was particularly frustrating because the doctor she was seeing was an orthopedist, about her back problems. Not a reproductive specialist or a gynecologist. Despite having X-rays and prior medical records indicating that she has a herniated disc compressing her sciatic nerve and causing further damage, the doctor chose to disregard that information.

“He pushed all of this to the side to say the real problem was that I was upset about not having children,” she says. “I couldn’t help but think, as I sat there, that no matter what else I did in and with my life, all that he could see was that I was a childless woman, and therefore, to him, broken. It was a terrible feeling, and if there’s any way that I can prevent another person from feeling that way, I hope that I can find it.”

Being overlooked by physicians is, unfortunately, a very universal experience for many, many women. Bolden hopes that by discussing it—even though it’s difficult to feel safe and validated enough to do so—fewer women will feel ignored over time.

“The more openly and the more often we speak about women’s health, the more we strip away stigma and shame.”

A version of this post was published in August 2022. It has been updated.