My Thoughts on ‘Medical Gaslighting’
How would you feel if you woke up every day feeling less and less like yourself, until one day you no longer recognized yourself? What if you told someone with the expertise and the ability to help, but their response was along the lines of, “What you’re saying isn’t true; it’s all in your head”?
Many patients have had this experience, which is sometimes referred to as “medical gaslighting.” Is this type of gaslighting real? Absolutely, but should we describe every situation in which we don’t believe we’re being heard that way? Not always.
I am very careful when I describe the actions of someone in this light, especially when such allegations can have a lasting impact on their livelihood.
Before I was diagnosed with Cushing’s disease and a pituitary tumor, I met with my primary care physician to find out what was happening to me based on the symptoms I was experiencing, which included a lack of focus and concentration, extreme weight gain, and hair loss, among others. The doctor didn’t dismiss my concerns, but based on my description of the symptoms, he wanted to rule out other possible diagnoses by ordering bloodwork and a CT scan.
The bloodwork came back with abnormal results, which allowed him to provide a diagnosis that, at the time, he believed to be the primary cause of my symptoms. But a couple months went by, and I still wasn’t getting better, so we increased the medication I was taking. Thankfully, my wife noticed that the medication was contributing to my debilitating health.
Then, before leaving for work one day, I experienced respiratory issues and was admitted to the hospital with fluid around my heart. The doctor who treated me at the time didn’t engage in due diligence and blamed my issues on obesity. I was told to lose weight.
I am thankful I had an advocate with me who was able to fight for me, because I wasn’t in a position to do so myself. My wife explained to the doctor that the obesity was a secondary diagnosis, and the primary diagnosis was being overlooked. Needless to say, the doctor didn’t ask to review my medical records, nor did they speak to my primary care physician.
I then contacted my primary care physician to inform him of what had occurred, and he referred me to an endocrinologist. After reviewing my records, the endocrinologist ordered an MRI, which hadn’t been done yet. He thought it was important because it would provide a complete picture — if something was going on, it would show up on an MRI. Less than an hour after the MRI was completed, I received a call about having a mass on my pituitary gland.
I could speculate why the previous doctor had been so dismissive about my symptoms, but I won’t. My wife confronted the doctor in the same way she would have confronted any of her co-workers who demonstrated a lack of professionalism. So I understand when I read comments about people who aren’t being heard, are being dismissed, or are told that losing weight will fix the problem.
Just remember, though, that not every doctor falls into this category. And for each one who does, there are two more good doctors who will give you the best of their efforts.
Note: Cushing’s Disease News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Cushing’s Disease News or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to Cushing’s.