What to say to your doctor if you're not being heard

If you feel your symptoms are being dismissed or misdiagnosed, here's how to get the doctor to pay attention.
Image: A doctor meets with a female patient
31 percent of women surveyed said they felt like they needed to "prove" their symptoms to a health care provider.Rawpixel / Getty Images
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By A. Pawlowski

More than a quarter of women say a health care provider has ignored or dismissed their symptoms, according to a TODAY and SurveyMonkey poll.

Almost a third, 31 percent, said they felt like they needed to "prove" their symptoms to a health care provider. And 25 percent said a health care provider did not take their pain seriously.

As part of TODAY's ongoing "Dismissed" project examining the sex and gender disparities in health care, we're offering expert guidance on being your own advocate at the doctor's office.

If you feel your symptoms are being dismissed or misdiagnosed, there are ways to get the doctor to pay attention.

WHAT TO SAY:

1. “I KNOW MY BODY AND I KNOW SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT."

"I know this is different for me and I want to find out what the cause of it is. I really need your help in finding out what’s going on. What tests could we do to investigate this further?”

2. “I THINK THERE’S MORE TO THIS THAN JUST WHAT WE DISCUSSED TODAY.

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"Can you think of some additional things that we could consider that would be causing these symptoms for me?”

3. “THIS IS NOT NORMAL FOR ME."

"I’d like us to keep looking because this is impacting my quality of life and it could be impacting my quantity as well.”

Ask if you should see a specialist or other provider — even if the doctor doesn’t agree, it's probably worth the time and expense to get another opinion.

A second opinion is best in this situation because physicians can be strong-willed.

4. "I APPRECIATE YOUR EXPERTISE."

Try to engage the doctor as a partner, but be firm.

Express that you appreciate the doctor’s expertise, but emphasize that you know yourself.

5. IF YOU’RE PRESCRIBED A MEDICATION ...

Ask if it was tested in men and women. If a doctor recommends a treatment, ask what’s known about how it works in men and women and whether there might be differences.

Bottom line: Don’t stop asking questions and keep speaking up until you get the answers that you need.

This guidance was provided by these doctors, who advised us for this article:

  • Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, director of the Office of Research on Women’s Health at the National Institutes of Health.
  • Dr. Marjorie Jenkins, associate dean for Women in Science and past founding director and chief science officer, Laura W. Bush Institute for Women’s Health, Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center.
  • Dr. Noel Bairey Merz, director, Barbra Streisand Women's Heart Center, professor of medicine, Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
  • Dr. Kim Templeton, past president of the American Medical Women's Association and orthopedic oncologist/professor of orthopedic surgery at the University of Kansas Health System.

This article originally appeared on TODAY Health & Wellness. See the full "Dismissed" series on how women are treated, or mistreated in the doctor's office.

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