How much time is acceptable to spend waiting in the ER for women? I often find that my pain and circumstances are seen as “exaggerated” by doctors.

Emergency room patients are supposed to be immediately assessed and treated according to the urgency of their condition. The average ER patient in the U.S. waits around 28 minutes before they are seen by a doctor, but for most women, getting properly diagnosed and treated is more complicated than it should be.

You may feel like you face an uncomfortable amount of questions and doubt in the ER – from checking in, to how long you wait, to the actual care you receive from a doctor. Unfortunately, this is not uncommon for women. Studies have shown that women’s pain is often perceived as performative, constructed, and “psychosomatic,” meaning it is overwhelmingly connected to emotional rather than physical factors.

This stigma of assessing women’s real, physical pain as purely emotional results in a lack of proper care for their specific conditions. There is a perception of pain tolerance and manageability that not only limits the opportunity for women to actually explain their circumstances, but also lessens their chances of being believed, even by a doctor. It’s almost like a competition of proving that the severity of your condition, all while trying not to seem overdramatic.

On average, men wait 49 minutes before receiving an analgesic (painkillers ranging from acetaminophen to opioids) for acute abdominal pain. Women can wait 65 minutes or longer for for the same. In fact, women are actually 13 to 25% less likely than men to receive opioids as a treatment for pain, and more likely to receive a sedative. These sedatives may falsely present a dip or improvement in pain, when in actuality, they can hinder a woman’s ability to best explain her condition.

What you’re experiencing is regrettably very common. The denial of specificity, increased effort to repeatedly explain, and the need to prove your pain’s legitimacy can be incredibly dehumanizing and ultimately, detrimental to your health. Places like the ER or the doctor’s office can make you doubt your own assessment of how you’re feeling – something you should feel empowered to share with health care professionals.

Trusting your instincts and listening to your body are some of the key components of living a healthy lifestyle. If you feel a doctor’s diagnosis might not represent what you’re experiencing, don’t hesitate to ask questions. Through emerging studies and accounts of women (even some from our past newsletters!) going through the same conditions, we can work towards erasing stigma and advocate for women’s credibility in the healthcare world.

 

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