What Is Medical Gaslighting? – How to Recognize It and What to Do

In the 1944 thriller gas light, newlywed Paula moves into an old row house owned by her late aunt, who was murdered years ago. As she Paula settles in with a man she met two weeks ago, she soon realizes something is wrong. Items slowly begin to disappear and the gas lights in the attic go on and off of her own volition. But when she brings the matter up with her husband, he convinces her that she is paranoid.

The film was the first to add a name to gaslighting. It is a manipulation tactic to make you question your beliefs and perception of reality. In Paula’s case, her husband tried to trick her into institutionalizing her so she could then take control of her finances. But gaslighting exists outside of domestic relationships; it is a common occurrence in the medical community.

What is medical gaslighting?

Medical gaslighting is when a health professional dismisses a patient’s concerns or symptoms and wrongly blames their illness or symptoms on psychological factors. “You can have doctors who convince you that everything is in your head or give in to them because they are the professionals,” he explains. Taish Malone, LPC Ph.D.., psychotherapist and counselor at Mindpath Health.

Most of the time, doctors are not intentionally trying to deceive and may not even know they are doing it. Although doctors have trained for years to become experts in their field, they are still human and can occasionally make mistakes. “Doctors are not without prejudice. Patients have to defend themselves when they feel there is a health problem”, he adds. Christine Metz, Ph.D.., an endometriosis researcher at the Feinstein Institute for Medical Research.

Intentional or not, medical gaslighting carries serious consequences. It can delay someone from getting the correct diagnosis, put people through unnecessary or ineffective treatment, and create mistrust for future medical decisions. Sometimes Dr. Malone says that you may be seen as a hypochondriac, a person with an intense fear of being or possibly becoming extremely ill, and have notes in your chart that might lead other doctors to think you are just a patient. hard.

Medical manipulation is real, and when your concerns are set aside, you may feel alone in your pain. Ultimately, you are the expert on your body and your health concerns are always valid. Being aware of the power of gaslighting is the first step in addressing it and getting the help you deserve.

Who is most likely to experience medical gaslighting?


Anyone can fall for the medical deception, but it is more common in women. “It is often associated with misdiagnosis; doctors misdiagnose about one in seven patients. But that happens more commonly among women than men,” says Metz.

Research suggests that women are 50 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed after a heart attack and 33 percent more likely to be misdiagnosed after a stroke. Additionally, women are often misdiagnosed or experience late diagnosis in people with autism spectrum disorder. Other to study compared the medical outcomes of men and women who went to emergency rooms for stomach pain and found that women were 33% more likely to wait longer than men and receive fewer pain medications despite having similar symptoms.

People with reproductive health problems

Of all the fields, however, Metz says that the majority of medical gaslighting cases involve reproductive health cases. “A lot of people don’t want to talk about period pain, they don’t want to talk about women’s reproductive health because it’s taboo in society and people feel uncomfortable talking about it,” she explains. “There are also biases, habits of mind, such that [rarely] I think women’s sense of pain is that strong.”

Metz currently directs the ROSE Clinical StallionY where she studies better ways to diagnose and treat reproductive health disorders like endometriosis. Among her findings, she found that more than 70 percent of women had their symptoms ignored by friends, family, and doctors.

Women may also have a habit of normalizing pain and symptoms, especially if other people in the family have experienced it. For example, Metz says that for conditions like endometriosis, “it’s very common for a mother to tell her child, ‘I’ve been through that, take your Tylenol and lie in bed for an hour to feel better,'” she says. “They normalize what they experienced, even though within social norms, it’s not normal.”

Young children and adolescents

Age also plays a role in a person’s risk of medical gaslighting. Metz says that society has taught us to downplay adolescent health problems as part of puberty or as something that would age. When, in fact, period pain or displaying unusual behavior could be a sign of something more serious, such as endometriosis or a mental health condition.

underserved populations

People can also experience unconscious bias when receiving a medical diagnosis. For example, people of color are more likely to be seen as defiant and diagnosed with disruptive behavior disorder than ADHD compared to their white peers. Dr. Malone says that in all groups, women and people of color are the most likely to have their symptoms dismissed and experience medical manipulation by their providers. “A lot of doctors don’t understand the disparities in customer care,” he explains. “There are misconceptions that can come from training or biased beliefs about certain cultures.”

A delay in diagnosis because a doctor does not take their symptoms seriously could prevent women of color from receiving life-saving treatment. 2015 to study in the Women’s Health Magazine found that African-American women are two months longer behind in diagnosis and surgical treatment of early-stage breast cancer than white women.

People who are overweight or obese.

Research suggests that weight bias exists in health care. A 2019 review looked at previous studies on the experiences of people with obesity when they went to the doctor and found that doctors regularly dismiss their symptoms. Common experiences included doctors with condescending and fat-shaming attitudes and doctors who made assumptions based only on a patient’s size rather than their health problems. Also, people who are overweight or obese are more likely to feel that they are not. heard by his supplier. The 2019 review found that people who felt stigmatized by their size often delayed medical care, and when they did go to the doctor, they saw multiple providers.

What are the signs of medical gaslighting?

Medical gaslighting can take many forms. The main sign of medical gaslighting is when your doctor downplays your symptoms or doesn’t believe you. Your medical provider can do this in the following ways:

  • Do not participate or listen to the conversation.
  • Not writing down your concerns or asking follow-up questions
  • Make it hard to get a referral or make excuses why they can’t give you a referral
  • Does not want to discuss symptoms with you
  • Discontinue or close your complaints or concerns
  • Try to convince yourself that it’s all in your head
  • Blames you for your symptoms (such as obesity, job stress, your period)
  • Forcing yourself to argue so that they listen to you and take you seriously.

Dr. Malone says that medical gaslighting among women or African-Americans can also come across as generalizing discourse. If the doctor dismissed his concerns as something that happens stereotypically in a group of people, then Dr. Malone says that’s a sign that his doctor hasn’t seen him as a person rather than an overly generalized statistic.

What can you do to prevent medical gaslighting?

There are steps you can take to stop medical gaslighting. The first is to address the problem, although standing up for yourself may seem daunting at first. “It takes a strong person to tell the doctor that your symptoms are real,” says Dr. Metz. Her saying something as small as ‘I don’t appreciate you telling me this is all in my head’ or ‘Please don’t tell me how I feel’ can make a real difference in steering the conversation in your direction. Once your feelings have been acknowledged, it is important to define the purpose of the visit and what you hope to gain from it, whether it is a referral or diagnostic testing.

Having documentation, from detailed observations you’ve noted in a notebook, tracking symptoms on a calendar, or photographs of clinical symptoms, can be helpful when defending yourself against a doctor. Your notes and medical history can help start the conversation by talking about when you started seeing signs of pain or other symptoms, any potential triggers, and how long the symptoms last.

Preparing a list of questions you want to discuss before your visit (and being prepared to ask follow-up questions) is another way to keep the topic focused on your concerns. “It’s very easy to forget what you’re going to say when a doctor dismisses your concern because it’s a bit shocking,” explains Dr. Metz. “But if you have your little checklist in front of you, it’s harder to forget what you want to ask or say.” Because doctors are often short on back-to-back appointments, start with the most important questions you want answered.

Both experts recommend bringing a support person like a spouse or best friend. They can help you speak up for him if he can’t adequately express his concerns or be there to take notes. Even having your presence for emotional support can make a difference in feeling reassured that your concerns are important. If you’re in the hospital or undergoing a medical procedure that could leave you incapacitated, Dr. Malone recommends designating a trusted family member or friend to act as your health care proxy in case you’re on strong medications or unable to speak by yourself when a doctor is reviewing your plan.

If in doubt, ask another doctor to look at your case a second time. You may feel like this is being done behind your doctor’s back, but Dr. Malone says it’s important to be your own advocate for your care. Always seek a second opinion if you feel your provider did not fully understand you or give you a good diagnosis.

What should you do if you’re not getting the help you need?

If you’ve exhausted all of your options or don’t want to see an expert doctor, both experts agree to change providers. “If your pain is interfering with your daily activities and life goals, you need to do something about it. You shouldn’t give up,” says Dr. Metz.

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