Signs of medical gaslighting that you might be missing

Question when told, without tests, that it's all in your head or your weight

Noura Costany avatar

by Noura Costany |

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It took me over two years to receive my Cushing’s disease diagnosis, mostly because my doctors weren’t well-versed in Cushing’s and didn’t know what to look for. I know that so many in the Cushing’s community have experienced that same sort of pain: We go to a doctor hoping we’ll finally be taken seriously, only to be dismissed and told that nothing is wrong with us.

Medical gaslighting is when a medical professional invalidates or dismisses your concerns. Unfortunately, a lot of chronically ill people have faced it. Some signs of medical gaslighting are obvious, such as a doctor’s claim, without testing, that a person doesn’t have an illness. Other signs are a little harder to spot.

The blame game

Doctors will often blame Cushing’s symptoms on something other than an illness. Commonly, in fact, they’ll blame those symptoms on mental health instead. I had doctors tell me numerous times that I was simply anxious or depressed and that I’d be better served by seeing a therapist. Those doctors, of course, were wrong: I had a pituitary tumor and two chronic illnesses.

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My Thoughts on ‘Medical Gaslighting’

Especially with women, doctors will also blame symptoms on weight instead of disease. I can’t even count how many doctors told me I should lose weight. The worst part was that my weight gain was a symptom of Cushing’s; I’d gained 70 pounds in three months, but all they could see was a fat person.

I was told dozens of times that losing pounds was the solution, but I couldn’t do it, no matter what I tried. The kicker was that these doctors didn’t provide a way to lose weight, or even ask about my eating or workout habits. They made an assumption based purely on my appearance.

Rare or not

Another way that doctors might be gaslighting a Cushing’s patient is by saying that a diagnosis possibility is “too rare,” so it’s unlikely to be the answer. To me, that implies they aren’t taking the patient seriously enough, especially if they refuse to test for what the patient suspects is the cause.

Sometimes doctors will even blame the patient for their symptoms. They might say, “Well, if you worked out more, you’d probably feel better.” Or “It sounds like you just don’t get enough sleep.” Or they can be more subtle, saying, “Try eating healthier for a few months; if the symptoms don’t disappear, come back” or “Maybe it’s dehydration. I’d get a water bottle and drink more throughout the day.”

All these statements blame the patient, don’t find the root of the problem, and won’t solve a chronic illness.

Lastly, if a doctor refuses to refer a patient elsewhere, it means they aren’t taking the symptoms seriously. Any doctor unable to help should at least provide the name of a colleague who might provide better service.

If you come across medical gaslighting, stand your ground. Don’t let a doctor dissuade you from finding a better, more knowledgeable doctor, and leave a review if you feel comfortable. Unfortunately, we all have to keep an eye out for gaslighting, and I hope a time will come when there’s more we can do when it happens.

You can also follow my journey on TikTok and YouTube.

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.


Jaybee avatar


Spot on article. Had exactly the same "gaslighting" from my GP for over a decade. He tried to convince me it was all in my head. Even offered me CBT. Ignored the weight gain, the high BP, the red face, the weakened immune system, the horrendous bruising, the palpitations, the sense of impending doom, the lack of sleep. He used to say "stop worrying and get on with your life" at the end of the (many) consultations.
Even the hospital doctors he eventually referred me to (wrong specialty of course) refused to believe there was anything wrong. Even multiple orthopedic consultants didn't consider the possibility of an underlying cause for my sudden and "highly unusual" fractures.
In the end it took a chance appointment for a completely unrelated condition with an old-school consultant who talked to me, asked questions, thought about the answers, and thankfully referred me, at last, to his endocrine colleagues even though the condition he suspected I had was "extremely rare".
I echo what the writer said above: don't give up. Nobody knows their own body better than that person themselves. Doctors frequently don't know stuff, won't listen properly to their patients, and even when they do are often are unable and unwilling to think outside the narrow area of their expertise.

Roberta Martinez avatar

Roberta Martinez

It's almost unbelievable how often I have been gaslighted in the past 5 years!! Our medical system is broken beyond repair. Women seem to get the worst care. I saw 14 doctors, complaining of severe pain. I was put on the state drug seeker/addict list because I was complaining of severe pain & they couldn't find a cause. 14th doctor found a tumor the size of an orange!!! Stage IV cancer. If I hadn't kept pushing, I would be dead!!! Then there was the constant pain & swelling in my leg. I was blown off over 6 times. I even mentioned 3 of my siblings had Factor V Leiden. I was told if I had it, I would have shown symptoms already. The day after doctor #5 blew me off & said I just wanted pain meds, Dr #6 found 5 DVT's in my leg!!!! When I confronted Dr #5 about the DVT's, he said I was just after pain meds, because DVT's don't hurt!! I was in a severe car wreck next. Given a shot of morphine & sent home with UNTREATED broken wrist, broken nose, 2 detached retinas, broken teeth, torn shoulder, knee, & ankle, brain bleed & more!!! Saw my primary care 3 days later for follow-up, he found all the injuries & started getting them fixed. But sadly by the time I saw the ENT doctor, my nose healed crooked. I had 4 surgeries since the accident, knee, wrist, shoulder, & hand. The next big incident was last summer, complaining of pain to primary care & ER's, 7 visits, my primary care doctor said she would no longer see me because I failed a drug test & constantly complained of pain!!! I asked for a new drug test, I knew I was clean, she refused!! Said I would have time to get drugs out of my system!!! I complained to doctor in charge, the original sample was retested & found clean!! But I had already been reported to the state as a druggie again!!!! So when I went other places trying to get help, there was a red flag to call the state before treating me!!! So I was ignored by all these doctors again. Finally one believed me!! Turns out my gall bladder was rotting inside of me!! Emergency surgery!! I had complained of severe back pain as well. Was gaslighted again!! Nothing wrong, I had injections & nerve ablation!! The Orthopedic doctors missed the fact that my L-5 disc was broken!!! My oncologist found it by accident during my 6 month check up!! Now here's the latest, I gained over 85 lbs in 2 years, while on chemotherapy. All sorts of other things were going bad as well, severe bone loss, thyroid, etc. Doctors found the adenoma on my adrenal gland over 5 years ago. They kept telling me it wasn't causing any problems!!! Then 2 months ago I was diagnosed with Cushings disease!!!! Big problem is all the damage already done to my body!! Then diagnosed, but no treatment!!!!! I can't believe how often I have been gaslighted by incompetent doctors in a broken system!!!


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