Gaslighting in medical care

The women I meet with MINOCA have one thing in common. Usually they were not diagnosed the first time. Instead, when they arrived at the emergency room, the first questions they asked were about their mental state, so it is not surprising that the most common misdiagnosis is anxiety, panic attack or reflux. There are hundreds of the same stories.

I’m sure you’ve heard of a phenomenon called „heart-attack stun„. Women who have heart attacks go to walk the dog, take the kids to school, make their husband’s lunch for work, and when everything is cleared, call an ambulance, still vacuuming the house while waiting for it. We women simply have a very high pain threshold. So even with the chest pains from hell that a heart attack manifests, we think three times about going to the hospital.

What is gaslighting and why am I mentioning it here? „Gaslighting is a form of manipulation. Ultimately, the victim of gaslighting starts to wonder if they are losing their sanity.“

I recall one woman who told me after two visits to the emergency room for chest pain that the attending physician told her that she was going to the hospital to get a break from her children. Of course, this woman only got to the cath lab after her condition had deteriorated so much that she was taken to the hospital a third time. Her attending physician twice convinced her that she didn’t actually have chest pain, that it was just in her head. He did not consider at all that the young woman might have serious heart problems (a myocardial bridge was found and she was operated on).

I recall another woman who was led to believe by the attending physician that she was having a panic attack. When she asked to consult a psychiatrist, she was refused. The cardiologist wouldn’t see her either. So she was discharged home after hours in the emergency room, and returned to the hospital a few hours later unconscious.

Gaslighting is a technique that undermines a person’s perception of reality. When someone is gaslighting you, you may second-guess yourself, your memories, and your perceptions. After communicating with the person gaslighting you, you may be left feeling dazed and wondering if there is something wrong with you.

I remember myself before I was properly diagnosed. Both emergency room visits were a carbon copy – the doctors convinced me that I wasn’t actually in chest pain. That this was all stress, anxiety (which anxiety meds don’t work for though), it was all in my head and the reality is different.

And of course I was stressed – I had severe chest pain that shot up my left arm and left side of my jaw, I was sweating, I was having trouble breathing, I felt like I was going to faint. But my stress was a consequence, the cause was my heart and its dynamic blockage. I had never experienced anything like that, ever. I was completely vital and active till the day I was not.

It’s natural to be frightened. Subsequently, I was found to have a long myocardial bridge on my RIA and another section of my RIA was breaking at right angles, but not that day. It is weird to say, to know my diagnose after many months brought me relief.

When I asked in our group what is the most common misdiagnose of heart disease, it was found:

  • anxiety – stress – panic attack – hysteria
  • menopause (even at very young age)
  • reflux – GERD

They convinced us that our reality is not reality and we are losing our sanity. It was an example of gaslighting. And it came from those we turned to for help. From those who took the Hippocratic Oath. Those who are experts on the human body, but usually not experts on female psychology. When the doc does not know you, why is so easy to diagnose young woman with anxiety?

60%

of angina patients are not receiving an optimal medical therapy

What have we done to deserve our loss of power status and our pain so easily labeled as anxiety, stress and became „difficutlt patients“ who should leave the hospital room as soon as possible with just prescribtion for anxiety pills instead of proper treatment and further tests? We women have always been strong, we have always been fighters. Please remember that when a young woman shows up in your office with chest pain.

She didn’t come there to rest. And she didn’t come there because she’s stressed. She came for help. And believe me, she thought three times before she came for it.

As Carolyn Thomas said: „Unless you present to Emergency in a coma, in fact, my guess is that most of you would certainly be displaying clear signs of extreme anxiety while in the throes of a cardiac event.“

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