Sexism and Misdiagnosis Led to Years of Suffering for This Chronic Fatigue Syndrome Patient

According to a story from Cosmopolitan, a young woman who we will call Courtney (real name changed for privacy) was diagnosed with chronic fatigue syndrome. However, this diagnosis only occurred after years of misdiagnosis, poor care and attentiveness from male doctors, and unnecessary medications and procedures such as electroshock therapy, which permanently erased fragments of Courtney’s memory.

About Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Chronic fatigue syndrome is an under-diagnosed condition which is most characterized by long term fatigue and other symptoms which severely impact a person’s ability to fulfill daily tasks. The exact cause of the syndrome is poorly understood. Risk factors may include family history, low physical fitness, old age, mental health problems, and allergies. Women are also more likely to get the syndrome than men. The characteristic symptoms is severe, persistent fatigue that has no definitive cause and is not resolved with rest; other symptoms include difficulty sleeping, worsening of symptoms following exercise, night sweats, sensitivities to certain foods, noise, or odors, muscle and joint pain, headaches, irritable bowel syndrome, and sore throat. Symptoms may appear gradually or suddenly, and in severe cases can leave a patient bedridden. Some treatments may include energy management strategies such as pacing and changes in diet. To learn more about chronic fatigue syndrome, click here.

Courtney’s Story

The symptoms of the syndrome began during her senior year of high school. After coming down with a flu-like illness, Courtney was plagued by extreme exhaustion that she simply was unable to shake. Dizziness, fevers, and bouts of sore throat were common. Normally an excellent student, her ability to retain memories of what she was learning and to simply pay attention declined severely.

Sexism and Misdiagnosis

The symptoms continued in her college years. Doctors and her parents all believed that she was suffering from depression, despite Courtney’s insistence that this was not what she felt. Statistics bear out the unfortunate reality that male doctors are less likely to listen to female patients; their pain is routinely ignored and minimized, and doctors are also more likely to assume that a woman’s health complaint is mental or psychological even when concrete evidence indicates the contrary. Women of color are even more likely to subject to this discrimination and poor treatment.

She dropped out of school; she was simply to exhausted to continue. Treatment after treatment failed to improve her symptoms; this ultimately culminated in Courtney’s ill-fated electroshock therapy session. Years of her memory, even her vocabulary, had been affected.

Today Courtney is starting to receive some useful treatment that is helping her recover, although fatigue still plagues her on many days.


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