You have probably heard the word “hysteria” before. But what you may not know is that when the term originated, it was considered a legitimate medical diagnosis. The term “hysteria,” which was a recognized condition in the 18th and 19th centuries, derives from the Greek word “hystera,” which means “uterus,” and comes from the belief that women are inherently irrational.  The diagnosis was often used as a reason to commit a woman to an insane asylum, or to subject her to questionable “treatments.”

Despite great progress made in the medical sciences, women are still far more likely than men to be misdiagnosed. Some researchers postulate that this is attributable to the cultural belief that women are more emotionally driven than men. For centuries, women have been seen as ruled by emotions and anxiety, whereas men are viewed as rational and logical. This can lead to providers, whether consciously or subconsciously, assuming that a woman is exaggerating her symptoms or being overdramatic.

It is true that when a woman describes her symptoms, she may include any emotional life events that have occurred recently as a way of framing the story. However, women also tend to be more health conscious and often do more research on their symptoms before a doctor’s appointment.

Another possible reason is that historically, medical treatment was developed based on male patients. But the truth is that there are important differences in how men and women should receive care. There are documented differences between the genders, including stomach enzymes, liver metabolism, and kidney function. Furthermore, certain conditions present differently in women than they do in men. For example, heart attacks cause very different symptoms in women. Women are far more likely to experience atypical heart attack symptoms, such as nausea and fatigue. And they may be less likely to seek medical attention, due to the fear of not being taken seriously.

Heart disease is not the only area in which disparity exists. In an article by the UK publication The Guardian, a study found that women in respiratory distress in public are 6% less likely to receive CPR from a bystander than men. One researcher suggested that this is due to the large number of CPR training mannequins that resemble a male body.

The disparity in treatment is even greater when a female patient is cared for by a male provider. Overall, patients of any gender have a better prognosis when treated by a female physician. Yet the fact remains that the majority of specialist doctors are male.

In order to combat gender bias, it is essential for the medical and scientific fields to conduct research on both male and female subjects in order to determine what differences may exist. It is also important that medical instruction focus on differences in symptoms between the genders. The medical field has come along way from hysteria, but it’s important for everyone involved to be aware of biases as the field progresses.

About the Author: Claire Means

Claire is a Database Development Specialist at Extract Systems. She started at the company as a document verifier, which gives her a unique understanding of the redaction software. Her attention to detail and high rate of accuracy prove her dedication to Extract’s success. Claire holds a certificate in Web Design from Madison College and her special interests include web analytics and search engine optimization.