Advocating For Your Health: How to Get Your Symptoms Taken Seriously

written by ERIN CELLETTI
how to advocate for your health as a woman"
how to advocate for your health as a woman
Source: ColorJoy Stock
Source: ColorJoy Stock

When you’re little the whole concept is so simple. You don’t feel good? Go to the doctor, they’ll help make it better. But somewhere along the lines that thinking changed for me, and for so many of my friends and family, too. As my health challenges began to get more complex and needed more specialized attention, I began to become all too familiar with our country’s gender health gap, medical gaslighting, and issues with women’s health equity—all at a young age, too.

Before I jump into my story and share some really great expert advice I was able to gather on how to advocate for your health as a woman and have your health symptoms taken seriously, here are some truly infuriating facts:

  • If the world’s gender health gap were to be closed, women would get an average of seven extra healthy days per year—which works out to 500 more healthy days over a lifetime. 

  • Just four years ago, only 1 percent of healthcare research and innovation funds were invested in female-specific conditions, aside from oncology.

  • For complaints of abdominal pain, women wait an average of 65 minutes for analgesic treatment, while men wait only 49

  • In patients who had heart bypass surgery, one study showed that women were only HALF as likely to receive prescription painkillers when compared to men who had the same exact procedure.

Are you adequately pissed? Keep reading.

My Experience Navigating Female Health Issues

Over the past 20+ years that I’ve been struggling with endometriosis, adenomyosis, and a slew of other issues that come along with both diagnoses, I’ve learned a lot. After four major surgeries, four minor surgeries, endless hours of physical therapy, a few mental health crises, and lots and lots of harsh medications and hormones, I’ve learned a thing or two about navigating the health landscape as a woman. I’ve seen a lot, experienced a lot, read a lot, and connected with others in similar positions. I’ve also had to learn how to advocate for my health. 

I’ve learned that doctors are human, and like humans, they are varied: There are good ones, bad ones, ones who listen, and ones who don’t. Ones who are biased, ones who are not. Ones who want to help, ones who want to make money. Ones who see you as a name, and ones who see you as a person. But finding just *one* doctor who listens, cares, and believes you can make all the difference. 

how to advocate for your health as a woman
Source: Canva

How to Advocate for Your Health as a Woman

Not being taken seriously can feel terrible and downright traumatic, so I spoke with several medical experts for their advice on how to get the answers and care you deserve. Here’s what they had to say.

There’s Strength In Numbers

Shenella Karunaratne, Licensed Professional Counselor, Online MFT Programs says, “Advocating for your health when it feels like nobody is listening to you can be incredibly challenging and anxiety-inducing. One recommendation to help with this would be to bring a trusted family member or friend with you to your appointments so that you have an advocate by your side.” She explains that having this person can help “back you up or to speak for you if you are having a hard time standing up for yourself,” adding, “It is much more difficult to dismiss two people versus one.”

Come Prepared

Ahead of your appointment, take time to prepare anything and everything you might need. Gather past medical records, lists of any medications or supplements you take, print out articles you may have found and would like to discuss, have dates and results of any prior procedure/surgery ready—you get the idea. The more prepared you are, the more productive and accurate a conversation you can have.

Keep a Diary or Journal

If your concerning symptoms come and go, be sure to keep an accurate record of them. By noting what time of day they begin or end, whether they occur before or after eating or activity, specific times of the month, etc., it will help your medical provider to identify any patterns or potential triggers for your symptoms. Going in with the ability to say, “Here are the days I have felt my worst, best, and what I’ve done or eaten on these days,” will paint a much more clear picture than saying, “I don’t feel good most days.”

Communication is Critical

Paul Daidone, MD, FASAM and Medical Director at True Self Recovery says, “Clear and straightforward talking cannot be overemphasized; [women] need not downplay what they feel or use vague terms when explaining it but instead provide accurate information based on facts only while at all times avoiding self-diagnosis though equipping themselves with knowledge about different conditions and symptoms would help ask relevant questions from doctors during visits.”

Clear, concise, and confident communication is necessary in most human-to-human interactions, but even more so when it comes to advocating for your health and getting the treatment you deserve. He continues, “It’s crucial for women to assertively demand necessary tests or referrals to specialists. If one doctor dismisses their concerns, it’s important to calmly insist on further investigation.”

Know Your Rights

Daidone also stresses the importance of knowing your rights as a patient. He says all women “have the right to complete care and respectful treatment.” He recommends following up after appointments, keeping a record of every medical interaction you have, and using patient advocacy services within hospitals, clinics, and offices when available. Patient advocates can help you clearly communicate with your providers so you have all the information you need regarding your care, diagnosis, treatment, and any medical decisions. They can also help you set up appointments and source financial, social, and legal support that may be available to you.

Ask ALL Your Questions

You may have heard, “There’s no such thing as a stupid question”—and it’s never been more true than when it comes to your health. Dr. Peter Hinz, a chiropractor and certified acupuncturist with over 10 years of experience says that it is essential to ask specific questions and “insist on clarity,” saying, “Don’t hesitate to ask for a thorough explanation of the diagnosis, potential treatments, and why certain tests might not be necessary.” If the appointment is wrapping up and you still don’t have a firm understanding of any new information you’ve acquired, don’t leave until you understand.”

Know That Stereotypes and Prejudices Are Real

As outlined above, if you’re feeling as though you’re being dismissed or prejudiced, there’s a real possibility that you are. The gender gap in healthcare is absolutely real and not at all in your head, and Daidone encouraged addressing it. “Address the issue of gender bias in medicine, as it often leads to underdiagnosis or undertreatment of women’s health problems,” he says. “ By being proactive, knowledgeable, and assertive, women can overcome these obstacles. It’s also important for healthcare providers to recognize and counter these biases and to create an environment that values each patient by listening carefully and without prejudice, thus providing quality service.”

erin celletti the everymom

Erin Celletti, Contributing Writer

Erin is an NYC-based writer with a BA in Journalism from Quinnipiac University and two master’s degrees in education. She is a proud mama to a little girl and a lifestyle, beauty, wellness, and trends reports writer. Beyond The Everymom, Erin’s editorial work has been featured in publications like Bustle, Allure, Byrdie, The Everygirl, TeenVogue, BRIDES, Sunday Edit, and TODAY.