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Women Speak Out on Health, Stigma and Fighting for Treatment

“There is no award for suffering.”

So says Jennifer, a patient diagnosed with debilitating gout in her mid-20s. She advises other women to “keep hope” and advocate for themselves. This May, which is Women’s Health Care Month, the advice rings true.

“Women’s health” is still treated as a subcategory of medical knowledge, despite impacting more than half of the world’s population. When women are hesitant to talk to medical providers about symptoms, or their reports are not taken seriously, they face serious risks of misdiagnosis. Women’s Health Care Month offers an opportunity to amplify women’s voices and highlight conditions that may be stigmatized.

“Women tend to be tough and quiet about pain,” Jennifer says, urging other women to “inform your medical team with the truth, and put up a fight for treatment options.”

The message rings true across the many medical conditions that women face. 

Dr. Michelle Van Kuiken, urologist and specialist in female pelvic medicine and reconstructive surgery, wants women to know they aren’t alone in their experience. Even potentially “embarrassing” conditions, she emphasizes, should be discussed openly with a provider.

“Pelvic floor disorders, including overactive bladder, urinary incontinence, pelvic organ prolapse, and even fecal incontinence are so common,” Dr. Van Kuiken says. “, there are many available treatment options, so it’s important to empower women to speak to their providers about what they are experiencing.”

Andrea lives with thyroid eye disease, and in addition to her symptoms, experienced distress that took a toll on her mental health.

“I was fighting internal battles regarding my appearance every time I looked in the mirror,” Andrea says of living with the disease. “Most people do not understand the deep-rooted depression and acute isolation patients struggle with daily. On top of a chronic condition, we also face the stigmatization of profound mental … especially if our disease is left untreated or misdiagnosed.”

She has since found a new treatment that restored her quality of life and has become a vocal advocate for patients living with these trying conditions. Her ultimate advice? “Trust yourself. Don’t allow others to tell you how you ‘should’ feel.”

These voices highlight the importance of women prioritizing their health and raising any concerns with their health care providers – in the month of May and all year long.

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