6 Women’s Health Issues Most Susceptible to Gaslighting

When I was 28, I knew something was wrong with my health. My hair was falling out, my joints ached, I was gaining weight, and I could hardly focus on seeing my own patients. When I finally shared my symptoms with my doctor (and keep in mind I was also a physician at the time!) my concerns were brushed off. I was told the health issues I was facing were simply due to stress.

I pushed on, though, and I went to various specialists, including an endocrinologist, a rheumatologist for my painful joints, and a hair specialist. The last doctor I saw gave me another medication that was supposed to help with my hair falling out. But what I didn’t expect is that it would also drop my blood pressure dangerously low—so much that I would pass out. What happened next was a very, very close call while I was driving.

My story is ultimately what led me to the world of holistic and functional medicine, as I sought out the real root cause of my symptoms. Unfortunately, the part of my journey where I struggled to get the care I needed from a doctor who took me seriously is not uncommon for a growing number of women.

This is known now as medical gaslighting, and it’s more commonly experienced among women of all ages.

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Gaslighting in your doctor’s office

Women’s health is a complex and often difficult topic to discuss. And there are many health issues that women face that are dismissed, not taken seriously, or their symptoms minimized by doctors. This is known as gaslighting. Gaslighting is a term used mainly in psychology to describe the behavior of an abuser which makes their victims doubt their own memory or perception of events and feelings. In the context of healthcare, gaslighting can be very damaging to a woman’s health as it’s never a good thing for a doctor to minimize symptoms or tell her that her issues are “all in your head”.

Gaslighting harms women’s health

Gaslighting may have originated as a term to describe behavior, but in the context of your doctor’s office it can be downright dangerous and place a patient’s health at risk. Gaslighting contributes to several problems, such as:

Delaying diagnosis. Many illnesses get worse over time without treatment—sometimes to a severe point. Considering that issues like endometriosis and PCOS often take years (and multiple providers) to reach a diagnosis, it’s important you’re taken seriously.

Misdiagnoses until serious consequences occur. If a provider isn’t listening to you, they may miss important clues that lead to the right diagnosis.

Serious health problems go unchecked. Diminishing the pain associated with endometriosis can result in complications that lead to infertility.

Less pain medicine. Women are often prescribed less medicine (or none at all) and offered surgery less often than men.

Many doctors and patients are speaking out about these concerns, and advocating for better care, more trusting relationships, and no more gaslighting.

Anyone can be a victim of gaslighting, but it disproportionately affects women  

Some health conditions, and especially those with “invisible” symptoms like chronic pain or fatigue, are among the most commonly gaslighted. It’s also a growing problem for conditions that affect more women than men—including those affecting reproductive health.

Gaslighting is a side effect of a broken system that ultimately doesn’t serve patients or physicians. Of course, gaslighting is only exacerbated for women of color and the LGBTQIA+ community. Partially as a result of dismissing women’s health concerns, the maternal mortality rate for Black women in the U.S. is 2 to 3 times the national average (1).  

Medical gaslighting is not a new concept by any means, as female patients have been historically brushed off for far too long—it hasn’t been resolved, but the issue has been propelled into the spotlight.

Related: Is It Perimenopause or a Thyroid Problem?

6 Commonly gaslighted women’s health issues

Autoimmune disease 

Autoimmune diseases like lupus, Hashimoto’s thyroiditis, and multiple sclerosis are often difficult to diagnose, as they present with a wide range of symptoms that overlap with other conditions. Women are up to 8 times more likely to be diagnosed with autoimmune diseases than men, yet they often struggle to get their symptoms taken seriously.


Endometriosis is a painful disorder that can lead to infertility. It’s estimated that up to 10% of women are affected by endometriosis globally, yet the average time for diagnosis ranges from 7-10 years (2).

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)

PCOS is an often-misunderstood condition that affects nearly 12% of women in the U.S. The symptoms—including irregular periods, infertility, and weight gain—can mimic other conditions and are typically misunderstood as lifestyle issues.

Mental Health Conditions 

Mental health issues are often mistakenly understood to be nothing more than an emotional issue or stress and can lead to medical gaslighting when the doctors don’t take the patient’s concerns seriously.

Chronic Pain

Chronic pain is often misunderstood and minimized, especially in women. There is always a root cause for pain, and it’s crucial to take the time to listen to patients to truly solve the issue, instead of simply managing symptoms. Women are also more likely to have their pain dismissed due to gender bias in the medical community.

“Period problems”

Period problems like heavy menstrual bleeding, severe cramps, and pelvic pain are often dismissed as “normal” for women and young girls. In reality, these symptoms can be indicative of a much larger health issue, and we should not assume they’re the “burden” of simply being a woman.

Read more: Can PCOS Be Cured? 9 PCOS Myths Debunked

Is there a disconnect, or are you being dismissed? 

Some disorders that affect reproductive health, like endometriosis, are notoriously tricky to diagnose. But it’s not strictly reproductive health problems that some healthcare professionals tend to downplay. For instance:

  • Women are less likely to receive ICU treatment regardless of disease severity, especially if they’re under 45 years old (3).
  • Women who went to the ER with severe stomach pain had to wait for almost 33% longer than men with the same symptoms (4). 
  • Women with chest pain waited longer for evaluation in an emergency room setting than men. They were also less likely to receive cardiac testing (5). 
  • Two out of three women diagnosed with PCOS saw at least 3 health professionals over the course of 2 years before receiving a diagnosis (6). 

Not taking women’s various complaints seriously also has a lot to do with thinking that pain is a “normal” part of womanhood or girlhood. As a result, doctors have a bias about what is normal vs. abnormal for a woman of any age. Your complaints may be labeled as “whiny” because as a society we don’t trust women to be experts in our own bodies. 

How you can protect yourself from gaslighting

Trust your instincts.

You are the expert in your body, and your intuition and instincts are a powerful tool—if you use them. Don’t be afraid to speak up and ask questions. It’s your right as a patient to receive appropriate answers and treatment, so don’t be afraid to ask for more information or seek second opinions if something feels off.

Find the right doctor.

It can take some work, but finding a physician who values your opinion and listens without judgment is key to receiving proper care. And don’t be afraid to seek a second (or even third) opinion.

Keep detailed records of your symptoms and treatments.

This will help you clarify any issues that may arise and keep your doctor accountable to the care they are providing.

Seek integrative care.

In my practice, we gather so much information about medical history, symptoms, nutrition, and other lifestyle factors. And when women are treated by integrative teams, they are much less likely to have their complaints treated as emotionally driven, or ‘all in your head’.

Learn more about how women’s healthcare should be.

Lastly, don’t forget that you have rights as a patient in any medical setting.

Never be afraid to speak up if something feels wrong or uncomfortable. Speak confidently and assertively in all conversations with healthcare professionals, including doctors and nurses.

Above all else, remember that you are a powerful advocate for your own health and well-being. Don’t let anyone invalidate or dismiss your experience—take charge and make sure you get the care you need. With the right doctor by your side, you can find answers and get the treatment you deserve. 

Overcoming gaslighting in women’s health

As a society, we can work to overcome the dismissal and minimization of symptoms by raising awareness of what gaslighting looks and sounds like during a doctor’s visit. Raising awareness also teaches women how to advocate for better treatment and more holistic options. And although the medical system is slow to change, the revolution for better healthcare begins with you—the patient.  

By understanding the power dynamics at play in healthcare settings and taking steps towards advocating for yourself, you can ensure that your medical needs are met with respect and care.



  1. https://www.ajmc.com/view/racial-disparities-persist-in-maternal-morbidity-mortality-and-infant-health
  2. https://www.yalemedicine.org/conditions/endometriosis
  3. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33884452/
  4. https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/full/10.1111/j.1553-2712.2008.00100.x
  5. https://www.jacc.org/doi/10.1016/S0735-1097%2821%2901347-4
  6. https://academic.oup.com/jcem/article/102/2/604/2972079
Dr. Taz Bhatia M.D.