Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick

Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick

In this shocking, hard-hitting expose in the tradition of Naomi Klein and Barbara Ehrenreich, the editorial director of Feministing.com, reveals how gender bias infects every level of medicine and healthcare today—leading to inadequate, inappropriate, and even dangerous treatment that threatens women’s lives and well-being.Maya Dusenbery brings together scientific and soci...

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Title:Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick
Author:Maya Dusenbery
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Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick Reviews

  • Melissa

    A deep dive into decades-long practices in science and medicine that disadvantage women from the word go. Bad science, prejudicial and paternalistic attitudes by physicians and other care providers, and a persistent belief that women’s self-reported symptoms are not to be trusted. Dusenbery gets into the actual published science behind all the bad science/medicine and how the tides are slowly beginning to turn.

    Book 2 of the three-Book trifecta coming out 3/6 about women’s health and chronic ill

    A deep dive into decades-long practices in science and medicine that disadvantage women from the word go. Bad science, prejudicial and paternalistic attitudes by physicians and other care providers, and a persistent belief that women’s self-reported symptoms are not to be trusted. Dusenbery gets into the actual published science behind all the bad science/medicine and how the tides are slowly beginning to turn.

    Book 2 of the three-Book trifecta coming out 3/6 about women’s health and chronic illness (other two titles are Invisible and Ask Me About My Uterus).

  • Wendy

    "Women's symptoms are not taken seriously because medicine doesn't know as much about their bodies and health problems. And medicine doesn't know as much about their bodies and health problems because it doesn't take their symptoms seriously."

    If you are a woman, have a body and go to the doctor, read this book. You will recognise your experience in these pages. You will get enraged. And you will be joined by many other women.

    As a sufferer of CFS, I faced years of doctors telling me I was sufferi

    "Women's symptoms are not taken seriously because medicine doesn't know as much about their bodies and health problems. And medicine doesn't know as much about their bodies and health problems because it doesn't take their symptoms seriously."

    If you are a woman, have a body and go to the doctor, read this book. You will recognise your experience in these pages. You will get enraged. And you will be joined by many other women.

    As a sufferer of CFS, I faced years of doctors telling me I was suffering from stress and just needed to meditate, take it easy. The suspicion that it was "all in my head" never far away. My daughter with PCOS as a teenager was laughingly called a "hypochondriac " by our ex-doctor because she was missing her periods.

    This book meticulously details the gaps in medical treatment for women. Primarily the gaps are in two areas:

    Knowledge about women's bodies, issues, complexities and Trust in women's accounts of their symptoms. "Hysteria" and "psychosomatic" part of the regular lexicon.

    This book details a situation in women's health that is beyond alarming; one that leaves women suffering for years with no support or diagnosis. The rule of thumb is: "If we don't know what is causing your chronic pain, it must be all in your head, not a deficit in our knowledge."

    Well written. Infuriating. Empowering. Recommended.

  • Mickey

    I want to take this book to my next doctor's appointment, smack him upside the head with it, and then stand there and read the whole damn thing out loud to him! It was infuriating and maddening to read, but it helped me to feel better that I'm not the only woman who is fighting the medical system for a proper diagnosis and treatment.

  • DW

    Much of the book focuses on anecdotes of doctors dismissing womens' symptoms simply because the patients are women. "Before [the twentieth century], doctors had no choice but to take patients at their word about what they were experiencing in their bodies." p 69 However, "I spoke to a depressing number of women with a range of conditions who attested to the power of a male relative - whether a partner, a father, or even a son - to help ensure their symptoms were taken seriously." p295 One young

    Much of the book focuses on anecdotes of doctors dismissing womens' symptoms simply because the patients are women. "Before [the twentieth century], doctors had no choice but to take patients at their word about what they were experiencing in their bodies." p 69 However, "I spoke to a depressing number of women with a range of conditions who attested to the power of a male relative - whether a partner, a father, or even a son - to help ensure their symptoms were taken seriously." p295 One young Ph.D candidate described trying to find out why she was suddenly dizzy and being told that she wasn't really sick: "'This was the first time in my life that anyone had ever doubted my account of the world.'" p252

    Dusenbery explains how these experiences are delegitimizing, because women know there is something seriously wrong with them but they are told they are the problem: "Medicine has an enormous power: the authority, as Susan Wendell puts it, 'to confirm or deny the reality of everyone's bodily experience' - to determine which symptoms are 'explained' and which are 'unexplained', to judge who is a sick person deserving of care and sympathy and who is a 'heartsink patient' trying to get the 'secondary gains' of the 'sick role.'" p312

    "Though medicine has a long history of dismissing women's unexplained symptoms, Bateman suggests that the problem became even worse in the eighties and nineties, with the rise of 'evidence-based medicine.' This approach, she points out, 'can come back to bite you, if you're not careful,' because if a disease hasn't been sufficiently studied yet, the evidence base simply isn't there." p264

    Women are demanding better treatment now, in part because they can connect with other people with the same symptoms over the Internet:

    "Guidone says that over the twenty-five years she has worked with endometriosis patients, she has begun to see a shift: women are less willing to accept it when doctors try to send them off with a paternalistic pat on the head and the assurance that debilitating pain is simply 'a part of life.'" p249

    But patients shouldn't have to resort to the Internet to find out what is wrong with them and what can be done about it:

    "We deserve better than a medical system in which an extremely debilitating and common condition remains so unknown more than two decades after it was first described (or 150 years, depending on when you start counting) that patients have to do everything themselves - from diagnosing each other to teaching their own doctors about it to funding the scientific research that's so desperately needed to explain it and cure it. [talking about postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome]" p281

    I've actually heard stories from men about them not having their symptoms believed by medical personnel, and being told they were just fine (it turned out one had a tumor, one had been given a potentially life-threatening wrong medication, and one had a severely broken leg (how do you miss

    one?)). Also, I've never been accused of making up symptoms even when my symptoms made no medical sense (I was even explicitly reassured by the nicest fellow I've ever met that my symptoms were not just in my head, which I thought was an amazingly compassionate gesture) so I've either had exceptional doctors or been lucky or the tide is turning somewhat. (My mom pointed out that the study showing that women in the ER have to wait longer than men for pain meds is 10 years old.)

    The book would be more convincing if it included an actual study on the topic of male doctors dismissing women's complaints and overprescribing them antidepressants. Dusenbery admits that she is just writing anecdotes, but insists "There is research to back up these anecdotes, though not as much as you might imagine, only because, I came to learn, there's little research on

    in general, which

    " p4 Diagnostic errors are another issue, which sorely needs addressing.

    "In 2015, an IOM report concluded, 'For decades, diagnostic errors--inaccurate or delayed diagnoses--have represented a blind spot in the delivery of quality health care' and 'continue to harm an unacceptable number of patients.' The Society to Improve Diagnosis in Medicine estimates that each year, 40,000 to 80,000 people die due to diagnostic errors in the United States. [...] According to a

    estimate published in

    in 2016, medical errors in general are the third leading cause of death in the United States, after heart disease and cancer." p85 I remember reading in

    that doctors no longer confirm their diagnoses by performing autopsies. I hope that somebody at least starts studying this topic, instead of everybody worrying about sparing doctors' egos.

    More convincing to me was the argument that women's responses to drugs are less well understood because researchers experiment primarily on male cells, from tissues and mice all the way up to humans. Dusenbery asserts "The very justification offered for not including women in studies underscore[s] exactly why they [need] to be included:

    As medical journalists Leslie Laurence and Beth Weinhouse wrote in their 1994 book on gender bias in medicine,

    , 'It defies logic for researchers to acknowledge gender difference by claiming women's hormones can affect study results--for instance, by affecting drug metabolism--but then to ignore those differences, study only men, and extrapolate the results to women.'" p32

    I remember hearing this justification for not studying women (I feel like I was in grade school, though it seems unlikely that this was a topic introduced at that age) and not realizing the implications. For instance, Dusenbery says that women have different heart attack symptoms than men (pain in the left arm rather than in the chest) and that many women have been sent home from the ER

    because of poor medical understanding of this fact.

    This book asserts that that people with diseases that are more likely to affect women (ie autoimmune diseases) can't be helped because medical research hasn't been focused on those diseases, because most doctors assume that women are exaggerating their symptoms or that the women are just anxious or depressed. For instance, "One of the revelations Jonhson reported in

    was that the CDC had routinely reallocated funding that Congress had directed to their ME/CFS program to other projects [because CFS was seen as a joke]" p266 Also, researchers were naturally more interested in their own problems. "Rep. Schroeder put it in 1990, 'You fund what you fear. What you have a male-dominated group of researchers, they are more worried about prostate cancer than breast cancer.'" p 32

    The book concludes: "Women's 'doctor stories' are similar, even when they are quite different. A white Ivy league college student is more likely to be seen as anxiety-ridden, while a woman of color is more likely to be stereotyped as a drug seeker. 'Educated white women' are seen as health-obsessed hypochondriacs who need to get off WebMD. But less-educated women may be seen as malingerers looking for a disability check. A thin woman is told she can't be seriously ill since she 'looks so good!' while a fat woman is told all her symptoms are due to her weight. For most of our lives, we are 'too young' to be sick anyway, and our symptoms can be blamed on menstrual cramps, pregnancy, motherhood, and menopause. By the time we're finally old enough to be seen as sick, we're so old that nobody cares if we are." p313

    The book raises several important points, but it doesn't make an effort to show both sides of the issue. Dusenbery cites stories and statistics that all point in one direction, and that automatically makes me wonder, "What is she leaving out? How did she massage these numbers to say what she wanted to get across?" So overall an eye-opening book, but I would probably want to look into some of the claims a little deeper before swallowing it whole.

    Random interesting fact:

    "It takes a notoriously long time, often fifteen to twenty years, for any new scientific knowledge to make its way into medical education and, ultimately, change clinical practice: to go from "bench to bedside." p 51 Whoa. Sounds like the pace of progress in human spaceflight.

  • Melissa

    Forthcoming. If you’re going into/already in science or medicine OR if you support feminism (hopefully everyone), this book is an important siren call for bias awareness.

  • Alex Linschoten

    Important and timely. Dusenbery has hit the nail on the head with this book. I highlighted so many passages. She reveals how -- at almost every turn -- women are rendered dismissed, ignored and invisible by the medical system.

  • Alyssa Foll

    This was an eye-opening read about how poorly women are treated in the medical system. Maya Dusenbery examines multiple factors for why medicine tends to be sexist and paternalistic in its care of women, but she also shares countless stories of women who advocated for themselves and for the healthcare they deserved.

    I can't say that this is a "pop" science read-- there was an impressive amount of data, acronyms, and medical jargon. However, it is well worth the read to explore how women in pain

    This was an eye-opening read about how poorly women are treated in the medical system. Maya Dusenbery examines multiple factors for why medicine tends to be sexist and paternalistic in its care of women, but she also shares countless stories of women who advocated for themselves and for the healthcare they deserved.

    I can't say that this is a "pop" science read-- there was an impressive amount of data, acronyms, and medical jargon. However, it is well worth the read to explore how women in pain are treated by our medical system in the US. My hope is that this book will serve as a clarion call for better healthcare and better treatment for all women.

  • ❤

    I hate to say it, but I found this book pretty repetitive in a lot of spots. Each section, regardless of what part of history or which medical issue was being discussed, felt like I was re-reading entire paragraphs at some point because so much was constantly being reiterated in the same way. Because of that, I also didn't find the writing to be entirely engaging as I expected such a topic to be for me. In fact, it was rather dry. In this case, that doesn't mean I didn't like the book - I though

    I hate to say it, but I found this book pretty repetitive in a lot of spots. Each section, regardless of what part of history or which medical issue was being discussed, felt like I was re-reading entire paragraphs at some point because so much was constantly being reiterated in the same way. Because of that, I also didn't find the writing to be entirely engaging as I expected such a topic to be for me. In fact, it was rather dry. In this case, that doesn't mean I didn't like the book - I thought it was informative and succeeded at tying history into present day medicine for the most part, I just thought it could do with a bit more editing in certain areas.

    That said, I've rounded my rating up to 3 from 2.5 stars simply because this topic is so, so important and regardless of writing style, the more effort that's put into bringing women's health and how often our symptoms are overlooked, downplayed or straight up misdiagnosed (and why historically this has been so prevalent) to the forefront, the better.

    Luckily, there are a couple more books on this very topic that have or will be coming out this year that can/will help Doing Harm in the fight to bring awareness and share the stories of some of the women who have struggled directly with sexist medicine.

  • Marianne K

    A repetitive look at gender-bias in the doctor/ patient relationship. Having experienced this firsthand, I certainly agreed with the premise. I almost bailed in the introduction as the author had so many liberal views that I do not subscribe to, "... nature is a lot more diverse than the two categories [gender] we try to impose on it", uh, no, sorry. Here's another gag-inducing gem, "I won't be discussing routine reproductive health care in this book-that is, contraception,

    , and care du

    A repetitive look at gender-bias in the doctor/ patient relationship. Having experienced this firsthand, I certainly agreed with the premise. I almost bailed in the introduction as the author had so many liberal views that I do not subscribe to, "... nature is a lot more diverse than the two categories [gender] we try to impose on it", uh, no, sorry. Here's another gag-inducing gem, "I won't be discussing routine reproductive health care in this book-that is, contraception,

    , and care during pregnancy and childbirth" I italicized the procedure she considers 'routine'.

    Getting past the author's biases, I found the book really repetitive and rote: Present anecdote, give statistics on disease/condition, tell how women are not believed even though they are affected more than men, wrap up with anecdotal person finding own cure via Internet, repeat, repeat, repeat.

    I liked the brief forays into medical history, such as the hysteria discussion. But did every condition need a monetary tally of how much research is allotted to it, and it seems every disease was compared to the money given to MS research for some odd reason.

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