Take care, mother

The hand that rocks the cradle may rule the world but from the times of Aristotle, through the Victorian age and till the present day, a woman with a medical emergency is less likely to be taken seriously, more likely to have their symptoms dismissed out of hand and will rarely receive prompt and appropriate treatment. Don't believe it? Well, there is a lot of medical research that supports this view.

By YOUR HEALTH - Dr Gita Mathai
  • Published 18.07.18
  •  

The hand that rocks the cradle may rule the world but from the times of Aristotle, through the Victorian age and till the present day, a woman with a medical emergency is less likely to be taken seriously, more likely to have their symptoms dismissed out of hand and will rarely receive prompt and appropriate treatment. Don't believe it? Well, there is a lot of medical research that supports this view.

Though the symptoms of a heart attack are typical, women have a 50 per cent higher chance of getting an incorrect initial diagnosis as they are not evaluated adequately. Hospitalisation is often delayed, therefore they are 50-60 per cent more likely to die than men. Physicians may dismiss the pain as "non-cardiac", without adequate investigation. Women may ignore initial twinges of pain for more pressing problems such as cooking or childcare.

Both women and men suffer from strokes. The onset of a full-blown stroke with paralysis is often heralded by a partial stroke or a TIA (transient ischaemic attack). There may be slurring of speech and weakness of a group of muscles. Recovery is often rapid, spontaneous and complete. Since it did not cause permanent damage, it is often not taken seriously by women (unlike men) and their physicians.

Women are 75 per cent more likely to suffer from autoimmune diseases, when the body attacks its own cells. This results in diseases such as SLE (systemic lupus erythematosus), rheumatoid arthritis, thyroid diseases and vitiligo (loss of skin pigmentation). Initially, symptoms are vague and non-specific. There is fatigue and migrating aches and pains. The symptoms are not taken seriously as a woman has to cope with the home and children. Luxuriating in fatigue and pain do no seem options till the disease is florid and out of control. Time is not taken out for medical consultations, investigations and follow up. In the case of men, the first "Aargh!" with pain takes them running to the doctor, having conveniently taken a few hours off work. The tests are promptly done, diagnosis is faster and recovery rapid as the medication sets in. Women with the same complaints are often not investigated, or are given sedatives and antidepressants instead of painkillers and immunity modifying medication.

Arthritis requires medication, physiotherapy and sometimes devices such as supports and kneecaps. Men are more likely to avail of this ancillary treatment. When it comes to women, application of a pain-relieving oil or gel and a few vague, unscientific exercises seem sufficient.

Pelvic pain is due to many causes even if it occurs cyclically. It is often not taken seriously, not investigated or treated with anything other than antispasmodics. Many work hours are lost because of this. Menstrual pain when investigated may be found to have a treatable pathological cause.

Men can schedule exercise, to prevent disease. They can walk on the road or go to gyms, unconstrained by domestic chores or the dangers of molesters and chain snatchers. Women can get discouraged by these uncontrolled extraneous factors.

Women need to take their health seriously. If their complaints are not addressed to their satisfaction, they need to question the treatment. Families need to spend money on the health of women and not wait till after they have become so ill that they are permanently handicapped. Women too need to practice preventive health. They have to insist on being looked after emotionally, physically and financially when sick.

The writer is a paediatrician with a family practice at Vellore and author of Staying Healthy in Modern India. 
If you have any questions on health issues please write to yourhealthgm@yahoo.co.in