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In 2016, 20-year-old Lucy Dawson was sectioned for an apparent mental breakdown. Even though she had all the classic symptoms of encephalitis, she was misdiagnosed and left in a psychiatric ward until it was almost too late.
But medical negligence in women’s health is nothing new. Read Lucy’s story and the history behind it.
Female Patient

For centuries, doctors diagnosed women with “hysteria” – a condition characterised by emotional excess. In Western medicine hysteria was considered both a common and chronic disorder among women. Some of its symptoms included sexual desire, irritability, depression, and anxiety. In extreme cases, women diagnosed with “hysteria” were forced into insane asylum’s or underwent horrific and irreversible surgical procedures such as lobotomy or hysterectomy without consent.

The notion that women are somehow pre-disposed to negative behavioural conditions goes back to Ancient Greece, when the womb was thought to wander around the body and cause trouble wherever it went. This theory was rejected with the advancement of modern medicine, but the connotations persisted in Western popular thought for centuries. Today, researchers of medical history point to evidence that hysteria was simply a way to pathologize “everything that men found mysterious or unmanageable in women”.

Female Doctor

They were mutilated or molested – clitorises cut off when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cause, or ‘medically stimulated’ into orgasm when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cure.

Supposed ‘cures’ usually involved punishment intended to turn a difficult woman into a docile one. They were mutilated or molested – clitorises cut off when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cause, or ‘medically stimulated’ into orgasm when sexual pleasure was deemed to be the cure. Hysterectomies and oophorectomies were unnecessarily performed – often without the patient’s consent – with the intent to sterilise reproductivity and neutralise hormonal fluctuations. Not to mention the dreaded ‘resting cure’ which inspired a short story so psychologically tormented that it convinced the pioneer physician to abandon it as a form of treatment altogether.

While hysteria is no longer recognised as a medical disorder, women are far more likely than men to be told their symptoms are psychosomatic or the result of a mental illness. The implications of this can be devastating.

Lucy’s Story

Lucy
Lucy Dawson photographed in 2021 by Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

In 2016, 20-year-old Lucy Dawson was sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 for an apparent mental breakdown. Even though she presented with all the classic symptoms of encephalitis, including confusion, personality change, hallucinations, and headaches, she was misdiagnosed and left in a psychiatric ward for three-and-a-half months.

During her time there, Lucy was given electroconvulsive therapy in a last-ditch effort to reset her brain, causing a seizure which made her fall out of bed onto an exposed radiator pipe.

Lucy recalls, “It was the end of November, so the pipe was as hot as it was ever going to be, and I lay on it half dead and having just had ECT, until an old lady screamed for help.”

Anti-psychotic medication had turned her from manic to catatonic, so she was unable to move or call for help on her own. When nurses finally discovered her, it was too late. She suffered third degree burns and was inexplicably paralysed in her left leg. Staff members falsely attributed this injury to one of many violent ‘breakdowns’ when friends and family started to ask questions.

Disabled Model
Lucy Dawson Photographed in 2021 at Cleethorpes Beach

In January 2017, Lucy was finally seen by a neurologist and tested for brain injuries. It was only then that she was diagnosed with anti-NMDA receptor encephalitis, a type of autoimmune disease where the body attacks otherwise healthy receptors in the brain. Lucy explains, “They call it friendly fire because your immune system identifies antibodies and healthy cells in the brain as being bad and attacks them.” This time, doctors explained that her paralysis was just another symptom of her disease.

Anti-psychotic medication had turned her from manic to catatonic; when nurses discovered her it was too late.

But Lucy was still not satisfied. She decided to hire a lawyer after being discharged from hospital and saw several specialists for her leg – none of whom could offer a real explanation. One day, a locum noticed the position of the scar the burn had left and checked it against a diagram for the sciatic nerve. It suddenly became very clear: the radiator had burned right through it. The damage was irreversible.

Since then, the hospital has apologised and launched a “robust internal investigation” to improve their standard of care for future patients. But Lucy insists nothing could ever make up for the physical and emotional trauma she endured at their hands.

Lucy
Lucy Dawson photographed in 2021 by Christopher Thomond for The Guardian

Lucy is now a British ambassador for disabled modelling and works to increase representation in the industry. She says that her success as a lingerie model “came out of nowhere. Because I’ve got quite a curvy figure, brands were interested and that became my niche.” She goes on to say that helping other disabled women to reclaim their sexuality “makes me feel what I do is worthwhile.”

In the five years that have passed, Lucy has encountered countless women with stories just like hers from all over the world. Australia is no exception.

Click here to follow Lucy on Instagram

A Bigger Issue

One in three women has had their health concerns dismissed by their general practitioner according to the latest figures from the Australia Talks National Survey 2021. It found that women were twice as likely to feel dismissed as men.

For instance, endometriosis affects one in nine women in Australia, but it usually takes six-and-a-half years to get a diagnosis.

“We literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology” – Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, director of the US Office of Research on Women’s health.

Research shows that health care providers prescribe less pain medication to women than men after surgery. In general, women report more severe levels of pain, more frequent incidences of pain, and pain of longer duration than men, but are nonetheless treated for pain less aggressively.

“It’s a huge issue in medicine,” says Dr. Tia Powell, a bioethicist and a professor of epidemiology and psychiatry at the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in New York. Medical professionals may hold implicit biases that affect the way that women are treated, she said. “Medical schools and professional guidelines are starting to address this problem, but there is still much to be done.”

Karen Magraith, a GP and president-elect of the Australasian Menopause Society, said the gender gap extended beyond reproductive health issues.

Female Patient at Hospital

“We have evidence heart disease in women is not recognised as early, not treated as effectively and women receive less evidence-based treatments than men do. I think that’s a good example of where women’s health is not as effectively treated as men’s health,” she said.

One of the main reasons for this is that women have been historically underrepresented in clinical trials for new drugs, treatments, and devices in Australia and across the world. And in the few instances where women have been included, the influence of sex and gender is often ignored. As a result, women are more likely to be withheld effective treatment and exposed to harmful side effects – including a higher incidence of adverse reactions when new (and insufficiently researched) drugs hit the market.

The result? “We literally know less about every aspect of female biology compared to male biology,” says Dr. Janine Austin Clayton, director of the US Office of Research on Women’s health.

Lonely Woman

It would seem that women are just too hard to study. For decades, women were excluded from clinical drug trials based on the unsubstantiated belief that fluctuations in hormones associated with the menstrual cycle would make results more difficult to analyse. When thalidomide was found to cause serious birth defects in the 1970s, women of childbearing age in the US were banned from participating in clinical research studies in order to ‘protect’ their reproductive capabilities. Even though this ban was lifted in 1993, and the inclusion of women was mandated in government-funded research, drug companies were not required to comply.

A 2008 report found that Australian Human Rights and Ethics Committees (HRECs) failed to enquire about the numbers of male and female participants in clinical trials. The same report showed that opinions were also divided on whether research cost and convenience justified excluding women from research.

As it currently stands, the Australian National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) has no policy comparable to those in the US or Canada requiring researchers to test on both men and women.

But organisations like the George Institute are calling for policy reform in order to standardise the way sex and gender is collected in clinical trials in Australia. Their demands include gender specific reporting in academic journals and a more equitable balance of female and male patients in clinical trials.

Patient Diagnosis

In response to such demands, a spokesperson for the Department of Health pointed to the $535 million package set aside for female health as part of the 2021-2022 national budget. It serves to improve cervical and breast cancer screening programmes, provide Medicare subsidies for testing of IVF embryos for genetic faults, increase support for the mental wellbeing of new and expectant parents, and boost women’s health initiatives including the Periods, Pain and Endometriosis Program (PEPP-Talk) developed by the Pelvic Pain Foundation of Australia.

However, this package amounts to less than $46 for every woman over the age of 15. More can be done to help.

What You Can Do

Standard consultations at the GP last just 15 minutes. Here’s how to make sure your health concerns are heard.

Come Prepared

Plan what you intend to talk about before you arrive for your appointment. Write down any concerns and questions so you don’t forget. Be specific.

Tell Your Story

According to Leana Wen, MD, author of When Doctors Don’t Listen: How to Avoid Misdiagnoses and Unnecessary Tests, “doctors end up asking about symptoms rather than the story. But studies have shown that over 80% of diagnoses can be made just by listening… By that, they mean listening to the story, the open-ended story of what happened, rather than asking a list of yes-no questions”

Be sure to mention:

  • When the symptoms started
  • Whether any life event/action coincided with the onset of symptoms
  • Whether the symptoms have appeared before
  • Describe how it feels
  • Whether the pain has increased/decreased
  • How often you feel the pain

Take Someone with You

If you are dealing with a particularly complex issue, have a condition that makes it difficult to discuss alone, or are particularly vulnerable, it might be appropriate to bring a patient advocate or a loved one along to an appointment.

Request a Female Doctor

Studies show that female doctors tend to listen more and their patients — both male and female — tend to do better.

Be Direct

If you still feel like you’re being dismissed, tell your doctor how you feel. Express concern that you are not being properly heard. A good physician should be able to listen and take your problems seriously.

How to cure a headache during pregnancy? 

We’ve compiled a list of the best natural, at-home remedies to relieve your headache as quickly as possible!

by Henna Clark

Headaches are common in the initial months of the pregnancy. It varies from mild to severe, depending upon your health and lifestyle. It is very important that you take foods rich in fibers, antioxidants, vitamin C, CoQ10, and magnesium. You need adequate sleep as well as need to be properly hydrated to counteract its initial development.

Causes

Your body undergoes various changes during the initial months of the pregnancy, such as:

  • Change in hormone levels and volume of blood during the initial months
  • Low blood sugar levels
  • High blood pressure

Apart from these some of the other causes involve:

  • Stress
  • Eyestrain
  • Caffeine withdrawal symptoms for regular coffee drinkers
  • Dehydration due to frequent vomits in initial periods of your pregnancy
  • Migraines
  • Sometimes sinus infections are developed due to common cold, which is common during initial months of pregnancy

 

 

How to cure a headache during pregnancy? This is the question the majority of women ask, and they start taking various medications to get rid of it, which must be avoided. 

Always take the advice of your doctor before taking any medication to treat it, as doctors advice to avoid them. The reason being the unborn baby might get affected by certain medications that might harm their growth.

Aspirin is one of the medications which must be avoided, as it carries the risk of miscarriage and cardiovascular complications on the unborn child. Ergotamines are used for treating migraine pains. However, doctors advise not to use it. It causes birth defects if taken during the initial months of pregnancy.

There are various natural cures for headaches during your pregnancy. Which provides quick relief with no harm to you and your unborn child. The various natural remedies are as follows:

Relieving migraine pains

For migraine-associated headaches, you must avoid noisy surroundings and turn off your lights. Migraine suffering women are sensitive to them. Apart from these, having a sound sleep is also effective in relieving the pain. Sometimes sleep deprivation, less food, and water intake also causes migraines. Make sure you sleep well, regularly drink water, and have adequate food.

Processed and junk foods trigger migraine pains, completely avoid intake of this food to prevent migraines.

Cold compress

Apply an ice pack or towel dipped in cold water in your head while you take a nap. The Cold environment narrows the blood vessels in your head, which helps in providing relief to your headaches.

Warm compress

Apply warm compress on your eyes as well as on your nose for sinus-related headaches.

Consume water

As per the study, drinking enough water and consuming foods rich in water relieves headaches and is a preventive measure for stress and migraine-related headaches. Dehydration alleviates the symptoms of your headache and is the primary cause of migraines and stress-induced headaches.

Magnesium-rich foods

Magnesium controls the blood sugar and improves the blood circulation of the body. It helps in curbing the occurrence of headaches. Consume less magnesium at the beginning as too much intake leads to digestive issues. Some magnesium-rich foods are avocados, dark chocolate, nuts, legumes, tofu, whole grains, etc.

No alcohol

Alcohol dehydrates your body and causes headaches if consumed in excess. Its a strict no for pregnant women.

Adequate sleep

As per the study, people sleeping less than six hours suffered frequent headaches ranging from mild to severe.

Sleeping for seven to nine hours is a must for better health. Lack of sleep not only causes headaches but also has severe health complications. Having an adequate sleep is a natural way to cure headaches.

Essential oils

Essential oils such as peppermint and lavender oil are proven to be effective for headache relief. Apply these oils in your forehead or on your temples for better results. Lavender oil is also better known for relieving migraine headaches.

CoQ10 supplements

CoQ10 or coenzyme 10 is a mitochondrial nutrient that is present in all our cells. It releases energy and provides antioxidant support to the body. As we age, its proportions get reduced, which results in numerous health complications headache being one of them. Taking C0Q10 supplements helps in regaining the lost energy of your body and gets relief in your headache.

Acupressure

Acupressure points in our body are the natural healing points that give us quick relief from headaches. In your feet, locate a gall bladder 41 point between the 4th and 5th finger of your toe. This point is very effective for headaches. Take a deep breath and gently push that point for two minutes. If you find it difficult, then your partner can assist in doing that. For headaches caused due to stress and anxiety, there is another point in your foot called liver three to kidney one. You can locate it in between the thumb and first finger of your foot.

Apart from all these remedies, you need to avoid strong odors and fragrances as it triggers a headache.

The Bottom line is that these remedies have no side effects, and these are safe and efficient ways to treat your headache.

Author Bio:

Henna is a wellness lifestyle writer. She loves sharing her thoughts and personal experiences related to natural remedies, Ayurvedic, yoga and fitness through her writing. She currently writes for How To Cure. She can connect with others experiencing health concerns and help them through their recovery journeys through natural remedies

Sources:

https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0072975210970127

https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/15985108

Dear Dr Benson,

 

Is it possible to suffer from reflux, indigestion and discomfort in the chest and just under the ribs from eating diary?

 

I recently had a tube put down my throat to see why the reflux was so bad but nothing came of it.

I have stayed off dairy for a while and feel better for it, but yesterday had some mini quiche and forgot that they have cheese etc in them and I have now been suffering all night and day.

What are the common causes (could it be dairy?) and what can I do about it?

From Burning Chest

 


 

Dear Burning Chest,

“Reflux” occurs when stomach acid rises up into your oesophagus (food pipe) and causes discomfort. The delicate lining of the oesophagus is unable to withstand the acid like the lining of the stomach can.

Over a long period of time this can lead to some very serious problems, such as strictures (narrowings) and even oesophageal cancer, so it should always be dealt with!

This is the reason people often have an endoscopy, to look for any complications of constant reflux, not to look for the cause.

Unfortunately the cause is most likely that sufferers simply have a weak sphincter (muscle) at the bottom of the oesophagus, and are probably just born with this.

Occasionally sufferers may also have a Hiatus Hernia (protrusion of the upper part of the stomach into the chest cavity through a tear or weakness in the diaphragm), but this rarely requires any change in treatment.

However, certain things are thought to make reflux worse such as being overweight, eating large meals, eating within 3 hours of bed, eating quickly, alcohol (especially spirits), smoking, tight clothing, and even stress.

A number of foods are also commonly implicated – and vary for each individual person – but may include chocolate, fatty and fried foods, chilli, spices, peppermint, spearmint, onions, garlic, capsicum, citrus, tomato products, fizzy drinks and caffeine.

Dairy is not one of those, and in fact milk used to be used as a treatment for reflux and ulcer disease many years ago before we had more effective medications.

The lactose in dairy products can sometimes cause digestive problems in people who are lactose intolerant, but these symptoms generally include abdominal pain, bloating, distension, flatulence and diarrhoea.

It is possible, but I think very unlikely therefore to have anything to do with dairy products, so instead look to see if it could have been any of those other foods mentioned.

As for treatment of reflux, it sounds like you should definitely be on some anti-acid medications to improve your symptoms.

Most effective are the proton-pump inhibitors, examples of which include Nexium, Pariet and Somac, so ask your doctor, but remember some work better than others in particular people.

In the meantime the use of antacids (e.g. Mylanta Double Strength Suspension) should provide temporary relief…

Dr Ben

Dear Doc, 

I have a gallstone that is 2 cm which isn’t causing me any problems.

My family has a strong history of gallstone problems and my mother and younger sister have both had their gallbladder removed. 

Why is the gallbladder removed and not just the stone?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My sister’s gallbladder problems only began when she was pregnant, and my doctor has advised me to have my gallbladder removed before trying to conceive.

Is there any alternatives? What should I do? 

Confused

 


 

Dear Confused,

There’s two parts to this question.

First, when gall stones are causing problems why is the entire gallbladder removed rather than just the stone? This is because the gallbladder would almost always form more stones that would again cause more problems, since it has already done so once.

Given that the gallbladder has only a minor function anyway, and its absence is hardly of any significance, it makes sense that it be removed in order to reduce any future episodes.

Second, when is removal of the gallbladder indicated? Simply the presence of stones in the gallbladder is not an indication for its removal. This is because a significant proportion of the population have gallstones without ever causing any problems, so a lot of gallbladder surgery would end up taking place unnecessarily.

The only reason to have the gallbladder surgically removed (called a cholecystectomy) is if gallstones proven on ultrasound are causing symptoms.

Such symptoms include intermittent episodes of pain (biliary colic), acute inflammation/infection of the gallbladder (cholecystitis), or the even more serious possibility of stones blocking the pancreas resulting in pancreatitis.

So given that your gallstones aren’t causing you any problems (that is they are asymptomatic), it would be advisable for you to do nothing – especially not surgery – and you would have great difficulty in finding any good surgeon who would be prepared to remove it in your case anyway!

They could cause your problems one day, but then again statistics would say they will more likely not … so why go through surgery unless you actually need to?

Dr Ben