Stories from across the world have made the news in recent times for “misdiagnoses leading to death,”and it is not out of the ordinary, as there is a long history of medical disparities for women. Last December, a girl who was made prom queen at her high school dance was told by her doctor that her headaches were simply from stress. She later died from an undiagnosed brain tumor, which brings many worried parents into reality with the question, who holds the doctors accountable? Misdiagnoses have repeatedly proven deadly for women, and are why second, third, and fourth opinions are necessary.
If discrimination did not exist in medicine, perhaps many lives could be saved.
It is a rampant problem for women to go neglected by the medical community. Lucy Goulding was 16 and went to see her general doctor several times for her headaches. Of course, as it happens quite often, Goulding was told her problem was psychological. Though these stories have been present for many years, it is difficult to understand why they continue. Goulding fell into a coma moments after she told her mother that she could not cope with the pain any longer, and she wished she would just die. She was a straight-A student who was “delightful and much-loved.”
What is even more troubling is that her doctor, Dr. Jaspal Mihal, allegedly denied the mother’s request for a CT scan. The following day, the daughter was taken to Worthing Hospital where she was almost turned away and sent to the community and mental health services (CAMS) department.
Luckily, but not soon enough, Dr. Mwape Kabole apologized to the family and admitted that the girl’s assessment was incomplete and that she should have had a CT scan. At 3 am, Lucy told her mother she wanted to die, collapsed, fell into a coma, and soon stopped breathing. She was successfully resuscitated, but was considered brain-dead.
In 2011, a young girl died of “love sickness,” though it was later discovered to be a misdiagnosis. Alina Sarag was failed by many doctors who she saw for her symptoms, as officials were called to investigate. In 2009 (her recent history), Sarag was treated for tuberculosis, and fell ill with the disease once again in 2010.
Sadly, at that time, she was also misdiagnosed with “travelers’ diarrhea,” a chest infection and a viral infection. She sought treatment from several hospitals. Her father says, Dr. Sharad Shripadrao Pandit, said that her symptoms were caused by mental health problems. This particular misdiagnosis could have been the direct influence of her death, as she tried several doctors for a fourth, and fifth opinion.
The Telegraph reported that her father told the inquest she was vomiting up to 10 times a day. The doctor, Pandit, refused to test her for tuberculosis even though she had a history of the disease. The girl ended up dying after struggling to breathe in 2011.
Another concern for women is the misdiagnosis of anxiety when they could really be having a heart attack. Women do not present the same signs as men do who are having a heart attack, and for this reason, it is often missed—resulting in needless deaths. Researchers at McGill University in Montreal sought to understand the sex differences in mortality rates from acute coronary syndrome.
Over 1,000 patients were asked to complete a survey. They found that men received faster access to testing, such as electrocardiograms, to check heart rhythms, fibrinolysis, and blood clots. This early detection is known to prevent damage, and to save lives.
Women should always seek several doctors’ opinions for serious symptoms, even a fourth, fifth, or sixth doctor could give a misdiagnosis. Modern medicine should not fail its patients for prejudice or presumptions, but it happens, and will happen. This is why it could be gravely important to choose the best doctor in the field, even if they are not in the area. Just because a doctor forms an opinion or diagnosis, does not mean he or she is right. Often, they are wrong, and this could lead to physical harm or even death of the patient.
Opinion by Lindsey Alexander