man with a headache

How To Spot Medical Gaslighting And Overcome It

When politicians try to tell you things are great when you can see that they’re not, that’s gaslighting. When a doctor or other healthcare professional minimizes your symptoms or makes you question your experience, it may be medical gaslighting.

Jessie has trouble describing the pain in her stomach. It comes and goes. Sometimes it’s a stabbing pain, and sometimes it’s just dull. Sometimes it takes her breath away. She wants to know what causes the pain, and what can be done about it. She’s frightened, afraid it could be life-threatening. She wants an accurate diagnosis.

Jeremy suffers from headaches, sometimes four or five times a week. He has been unable to figure out what triggers them. They don’t quite debilitate him like a migraine would, but they interfere with his work and his fun. These headaches impact the choices his family makes about everything, from enjoying meals together to going on vacation. He wants to get to the bottom of it. He wants an accurate diagnosis.

Jessie and Jeremy have both talked to their primary care physicians, and have both been sent to specialists. Although they each have had tests, neither of them has a diagnosis. Their prescribed treatments have not improved their symptoms.

They feel like what their doctors have been telling them boils down to the same phrase:

“It’s all in your head.”

There are definite connections between one’s mind and one’s body. Our state-of-mind can often affect our physical health. Factors such as stress, dealing with negative emotions, and depression can have a negative impact on our physical health.

However, there are also times when our symptoms are not a product of our mental health. Patients should never feel like they are making up their own symptoms. You should never feel gaslighted by anyone into doubting the symptoms you are feeling.

Blaming the patient by trying to convince the patient that he or she is at fault or that they’re imagining their symptoms, instead of taking responsibility for finding the diagnosis, is a form of gaslighting. Gaslighting a patient is TOTALLY UNACCEPTABLE.

If you have symptoms that are unsolved and unresolved, if you have been dismissed, or told you need to do other things to make yourself happier or to reduce stress, even if your doctor hasn’t said out loud the he or she thinks it’s all in your head, then it’s time for you to take command of your own care.

Not every illness or condition has a name yet. It’s possible that you have a disorder that’s not yet known to the medical community. That doesn’t mean what you’re experiencing isn’t real. But before you give into the idea that you may have a nameless disease, try everything you can first to be diagnosed correctly.

If there is no name for what is wrong with you, there may still be treatments that can help relieve your symptoms.

Things you can do to get properly diagnosed:

  • Get a second, third, or even fourth opinion. Seek extra opinions after tracking your symptom triggers: when they evolve and wane, what you were doing or eating just prior, and anything else you notice. More detailed tracking helps your doctor arrive at your answer.
  • Ask your doctor(s) for your differential diagnosis. A “differential diagnosis” is a list of possible alternatives—including alternatives the doctor has ruled out. You can explore those alternatives yourself, and share your findings with either the doctor you trust the most or another doctor.
  • Ask for a referral to a psychologist or psychiatrist. A meeting with one of these specialists can help you confirm whether the root of your symptoms is mental or physical.
  • Find a professional, independent advocate to help you out. We know that it’s extremely difficult to balance your health issues with everything else in your life. Finding an advocacy professional to guide you and make the best contacts on your behalf is a great way to get past those hurdles.

Although it can be difficult at times to get an accurate diagnosis, there are a plethora of additional approaches you can take to ensure that your health will be properly taken care of. There will always be resources available out there to help you!

In case you are interested:

Two years after her first symptoms appeared, Jessie was diagnosed with Stage 4 ovarian cancer. She died a few months later because her diagnosis came too late for effective treatment.

Jeremy spent almost six years trying to get an accurate diagnosis before he was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disease called systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE). Had he gotten the diagnosis earlier, it may have slowed his disease’s progression.

Their instincts were right–something was going on for each of them. Let their stories inspire you to trust your instincts. If you feel something is not right, pursue the diagnosis so you can get the necessary treatment to protect your health and have the peace of mind that you didn’t ignore what your body is telling you.

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1 thought on “How To Spot Medical Gaslighting And Overcome It”

  1. Great article! Rheumatologists and Endocrinologists are great specialists to seek out if you have symptoms that your PCP or other specialty provider have not been able to diagnose. Many auto-immune disorders have subtle, and often difficult-to-discern combination of symptoms.

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