Have you heard of medical gaslighting!? Medical gaslighting happens more often than we think, people just don’t seem to talk about it. We may not realize at the time, that we were being gas lightened by our medical providers, but after reading about medical gaslighting, take a step back and evaluate your appointments to see if you think you have been a victim in the past. When someone is experiencing medical gaslighting the doctor or healthcare provider may dismiss concerns about your health, or you are not being heard and taken seriously. Some health care providers may even deny a patient’s diagnosis entirely. Looking back over the years, I have been medically gaslighted a few times.
There are several warning signs to know if you are being medically gaslighted.
1. Your appointment is rushed once you enter the room. If you do not get time to explain why you are there and you are rushed to explain your symptoms it may be a warning sign of gaslighting. I know most appointments are often very limited on time, but when you are in the room with the doctor you should not be rushed. You should be given the allotted time allowed for your appointment. You are not just a number; you deserve the doctor’s full attention – after all it is your health. The time you do have with the doctor or health care provider – use your time wisely and prioritize what is most important to discuss. If you are like me, I often run out of time before I have mentioned half of what is on my list, but I go back another day for another appointment and pick up where I left off on my list.
2. Your symptom list is not being taken seriously. Doctors should never dismiss symptoms you ask about, no matter how small the complaint may be. It could be a warning sign of a much bigger medical issue later on. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had this happen several times. As with fibromyalgia, there are so many symptoms that one can experience it can get overwhelming. I often would tell doctors or healthcare providers that my anxiety was extremely high. So high that my heart would pound all day long and I would feel sick to my stomach every day. No one seemed to want to take it seriously and responded back with, ” Yes anxiety is part of fibromyalgia.” And leave it at that. My anxiety spiralled out of control and started presenting as an anxiety disorder. My neurologist was the first person who took it seriously enough and helped me. Fibromyalgia is an invisible illness, but so many symptoms arise. Each and every symptom needs to be addressed and needs to be treated – usually with different routes. Another example here is I would constantly have leg pain – which is also a symptom of fibromyalgia. I was always told the pain was from the fibromyalgia, but I found out I also have restless leg syndrome that needed to be treated. The leg pain eased off after I started medication. Who knew restless leg syndrome could cause leg pain to be present? I sure didn’t.
3. Doctors or healthcare providers tell you it all in your head and the symptoms are not there. Sadly, this happens alot with people diagnosed with fibromyalgia. We are not hypochondriacs. The symptoms are real! Fibromyalgia has no one test to diagnose which makes some doctors and health care providers wonder if all the complaints are true. Without listening to your symptom list, you may be diagnosed wrong, or the incorrect treatment may be used. I often wonder if I have chronic fatigue syndrome as a primary diagnosis and fibromyalgia as a secondary. In my case the chronic fatigue is worse than the pain most days, but there again it’s easier to blame fibromyalgia then take the time to properly diagnose me with chronic fatigue syndrome.
4. Your medical history is questioned. I don’t know about you, but my medication list has grown larger since being diagnosed with fibromyalgia. Most of the medications were prescribed by the same doctor, who recently moved or by my neurologist. However, I had to see a different doctor for refills one day at a walk-in clinic. He did not want to refill the ones my neurologist prescribed as he couldn’t see it on my file, even though all three medications were listed on my neurologist report. I had to explain and defend why I needed each and every medication. I left the office without the three medications, because he felt I was pill shopping and being dishonest about needing these pills.
5. During appointments you are constantly being interrupted by the doctors or health care providers. How do you explain the issue or symptom when being interrupted over and over?!? The answer is you cant. I have been to doctors in the past where they think they know what you are about to say and interrupt before you have had a chance to explain everything. It can become frustrating. I have not experienced this as of recent. My doctors involved have always allowed me to explain my side of it and genuinely listened when I speak. I do know of situations where others have gone in, and their doctor was not attentive or even listening to what was being said. Not being heard is often a complaint of many people who suffer from chronic pain conditions. I also saw a dr who did not live where I live, and he constantly interrupted me the entire hour I was in the office with him. I was never able to finish a sentence. It doesn’t make a person feel heard.
6. Doctors refuse to investigate with lab work or any other tests. On the support groups I am a part of for fibromyalgia, I often hear of doctors not wanting to take the time to investigate further. Fibromyalgia is often diagnosed by ruling out several other conditions beforehand. I was lucky in that aspect. My doctor ran blood tests over and over again to verify that the results were accurate. My doctor sent me to a rheumatologist to rule out other conditions and ordered an MRI when I requested to rule out MS. Any tests that were recommended by specialists my doctor was quick to request further testing – such as a sleep study.
7. Not being given the opportunity to have your opinions and thought in treatment routes. I have had this happen to me once and it was such a negative aspect in my treatment plan. My trust level disappeared and I found myself not wanting to even participate in what was recommended. I even formed extremely high anxiety. Disability flew a doctor to where I live to complete a medical status exam- a doctor who I had never talked to nor do i believe he reviewed any of my medical background information. This doctor concluded that I had full range of motion and I should return back to work based on my current capabilities – yet my family doctor reported the complete opposite a month prior. I’m not sure how a doctor can deem a person fit to return to work when being told I have a difficult time meeting my basic needs. Long story short, he had written a bunch of recommendations in his report which were put into place and I was not given the option if I wanted to take these recommended treatment routes. Looking back on this appointment I realize I was medically gaslighted the entire appointment.
Gas lighting can result very negatively. It can create emotions such as anger, frustration, doubt, worry, sadness and fear to form.
1. Medical Gaslighting can result in being diagnosed incorrectly, which then leads to the wrong treatment routes used.
2. A second result is the individual may experience high anxiety and/ or depression. Individuals who have experienced gaslighting may also become very emotional, thus resulting in poor judgement and asking the wrong questions to doctors or healthcare providers.
3. Medical gaslighting can result in loss of trust and isolation from seeking further medical care.
4. Medical gaslighting can result in you feeling crazy and make you question your own judgement and sanity.
How to prevent medical gaslighting from taking place:
1. Advocate for yourself. Advocating for yourself may require you to keep detailed notes of symptoms, treatments, medications and any other relevant records. Please see my blog on advocating if you want more information. If a treatment route is mentioned that you are unsure of, voice your concerns about it. If after advocating for yourself and you remain ignored, you may want to seek a second opinion from another doctor. There are also advocacy groups out there if you have a difficult time advocating for yourself. Sometimes you can arrange for an advocate to accompany you to your appointment.
2. Take someone with you to an appointment such as a family member or a friend for support if you need to.
3. Ask questions. This requires the doctor or health provider to communicate with you directly limiting the chances of being ignored. Remember time is limited at most doctors’ appointments so prioritize your questions. I often go in with a list of what needs to be discussed. By asking questions the doctor has to engage.
4. If the incidents of gas lighting are severe you may want to consider speaking to the manager of the clinic or filing an official complaint. Ive had to take this route a few times as the health care providers were belittling me during treatment. I actually discontinued care at this particular clinic due to being belittled and feeling uncomfortable as soon as I stepped foot in the front door.
5. Seek healthcare from doctors or health care providers who come across as genuine, respectful and honest. A doctor who cares will respect you and your time at the office.
I hope this information provided in this article helps you identify medical gaslighting.