"Have you ever been misdiagnosed by a doctor due to your size? What were the repercussions of your misdiagnosis?” I asked on Twitter. I had become accustomed to a steady trickle of responses to questions like these. But this time, I was inundated.
I read their stories as they came in — frank and heartbreaking tales, too often told by loved ones who survived the fat people they’d lost to misdiagnosis. Cancer, multiple sclerosis, thyroid conditions. And every time, the doctor’s recommendation was the same: just lose weight.
And they weren’t alone. Rebecca Hiles was told that her respiratory issues — including bloody coughing fits — were due to her weight. It took six years for a doctor to properly diagnose her cancer. Vilma Soltesz didn’t even make it to the doctor’s office — she was kept from boarding an airplane that could have delivered her to lifesaving care. She died half a world away, waiting for a flight. Sarah Bramblette and Patty Nece shared their stories of misdiagnosis with the New York Times.
For awhile news stories were highlighting the obesity epidemic that was killing us all. Then a review was done and they dramatically reduced those death statistics due to faulty methodology and data. NOW we find that medical bias may be playing a serious role in the deaths of fat patients. I recall the obituary that indicated a fat woman's symptoms were ignored until finally, with just weeks to live, she was diagnosed with cancer. How often does this happen?
My liver disease diagnosis was delayed because my doctor wanted to lecture me about weight loss surgery and responded to my mention of stomach pain with a reference to depression often causing random body aches and pains. While true, I was a 59 year old with other serious health issues so didn't it merit some examination? Also he announced at the beginning of that visit that he wasn't going to do a physical exam. Thus he missed tenderness in that area and also in my spleen which showed as enlarged on the CT I received when I went to Urgent Care for my pain. (A previous exam in Urgent Care when I went in for a UTI revealed that tenderness.)
I was too persistent to just slink away and accept the BS answer I got. But what if I wasn't? What if even now I still didn't have a liver disease diagnosis for which I'm busy reducing fat and sugar intake? What if I was busy ignoring that pain because this doctor, an authority figure, told me that it was a symptom of my depression--even though that's never been a depression symptom before in the many years I've had episodes of depression? When would I finally learn that I had liver disease--when I jaundiced?
When I was 42 a savvy Urgent Care doctor took my cardiac symptoms seriously and sent me to cardiology, leading to my quadruple bypass and saving my life. What if he had merely told me to go home and lose weight and I wouldn't have pain on exertion anymore?
Medical bias kills.