By Dr Shailly Sharma
International Women's Day 2020: Medical disorders affecting women are not necessarily present with the same symptoms profile as in men due to inherent biological and psychosocial issues and upbringing. Also, there are few illnesses specific to female gender. In this spotlight feature, we will investigate some of the medical conditions where women may remain underdiagnosed and explore some of the possible reasons behind this.
A condition where many women struggle for a long time before they manage to get a correct diagnosis is endometriosis. It's a chronic and progressive disease where body had active remnants of endometrial tissues outside of the uterus and they can present with a myriad of symptoms like persisting abdominal pain, debilitating pain in pelvic area, abnormal menstrual bleeding, pain during intercourse and many a times mimicking any other illness. These symptoms can have a severe impact on an individual's quality of life affecting their productivity and other aspects of their physical, emotional and mental health. Period from onset of symptoms to proper diagnosis can be disturbingly long. Also, facilities like diagnostic laparoscopy and hormonal tests are not easily available everywhere making the condition more difficult to be diagnosed.
ADHD and other mood disorders
Psychological illnesses are very common and very much underdiagnosed. As per WHO 1 in 3 females have some psychological disorder in some point of life but is often neglected both by patient and at primary or secondary level healthcare.
Pregnancy can lead to mood swings and postpartum depression is also a very well-known entity but many times the initial symptoms are often overlooked. Depression is more common in females than men but unfortunately females having mood disorders or ADHD are also often labeled initially as depression and may take years to be diagnosed correctly. Many times, psychological disorders can mimic physical symptoms and are called collectively as psychosomatic disorders.
Lack of libido can also be a part of stress.
A detailed history and examination and preferably a psychological evaluation is often necessary to diagnose the exact disease and etiology. Lack of awareness about psychological disorders in community and unwillingness on patients' part for a psychological evaluation also makes things difficult.
Multiple specific nutritional deficiencies can be the cause of many nonspecific symptoms and are easily missed initially. Vitamin D deficiency is very common in females and can lead to generalized fatigue, generalized bone pain and loss of stamina. Vitamin B 12 and folic acid deficiencies can lead to severe anemia along with oral ulcers, mild jaundice and taste loss. Iron deficiency leads to anemia, hair loss and vitamin E deficiency causes skin changes and oxidative stress. It's a myth that nutritional deficiency occurs only in less privileged persons as they equally occur in well to do persons too. Often, they are missed initially and overlooked. They are very easily correctable and lead to much better quality of life.
These are the few common illnesses which are often missed initially or in many cases not diagnosed correctly at all. We need to create more awareness among people and other healthcare workers to find and detect these as mostly they are easily curable and lead to much better quality of life. Doctors also need to be sensitized towards psychological issues for early identification of these ailments.
(The columnist is Consultant Gynecologist & Obstetrician, Fortis Escorts Hospital Faridabad. Views expressed are the author's own.)