‘She thinks she’s in constant pain' - Why do doctors not take women seriously?

The Gender Pain Gap Index Report revealed that 56% of women feel they are not taken seriously by doctors when they are in pain. 
James Wilson
James Wilson

14.23 30 Jan 2024

Share this article

‘She thinks she’s in constant...

‘She thinks she’s in constant pain' - Why do doctors not take women seriously?

James Wilson
James Wilson

14.23 30 Jan 2024

Share this article

Why are so many doctors dismissive of female pain? 

Over the weekend, Newstalk Breakfast host Ciara Kelly wrote about her experiences not being taken seriously by doctors in an Irish hospital.

She wrote that she attended the emergency department after she began experiencing the “worst pain of her life” several years ago.


When her test tests came back clear, two young male doctors told her to cut back on her workload, reduce stress and go home.

An experienced doctor herself, Ciara refused to leave.

It was only after a female doctor reviewed her file that she was diagnosed with a leaking lumbar puncture.

Bias against women

Was Ciara taken less seriously because she was a woman?

Study after study has found this to be the case; in 2017, the Gender Pain Gap Index Report found a majority (56%) of British women thought medical professionals did not take them seriously when they were in pain.

Similarly, a 2016 study found women who present with the same severity of abdominal pain in British emergency departments wait 16 minutes longer than men on average for pain relief medication.


Endometriosis is another medical condition where women often complain their pain is not taken seriously

One in 10 women globally have the condition, which is when the tissue on the womb grows in other places - such as the ovaries or fallopian tubes.

It can be extremely painful but, on average, it takes between seven and 10 years to get diagnosed. 

Lisa Tierney Keogh told Newstalk Breakfast she suffered from endometriosis for 28 years before she was diagnosed.

Many endometriosis patients have symptoms of the condition, such as pain or brain fog, as soon as they start menstruating. 

The symptoms are often dismissed as just

“By the time they actually start looking for an answer, they could be in their 20s," she told Newstalk Breakfast

“So, already they’ve had possibly a decade of pain and from that point it could take another decade to get treated.” 


She said many healthcare professionals still think it is “normal for women to be in pain” when they are on their periods.

It means they often ignore or misdiagnose the symptoms of endometriosis. 

“I had MRIs and scans coming into my late teens and early 20s for all this mystery pain,” Ms Tierney Keogh said. 

“I attended years of physio - literally years of physio - for ‘lower back and hip pain’. 

“Just before my diagnosis, I was told by a doctor, this recent heavy period was due to stress and it would settle down. 

“I was also told things would settle down after I had a baby, my symptoms got much worse after I had a baby.” 


Last year, Ms Tierney Keogh had consultations with “up to” 20 healthcare workers about her condition and continues to have negative experiences. 

“It seems to be getting worse,” she said. 

“A couple of years ago, a doctor wrote a letter about me saying, ‘She thinks she’s in constant pain.’ 

“This was a woman because female doctors are just as likely to internalise bias as men.”

Despite the doctor’s scepticism, Ms Tierney Keogh underwent surgery just a few months later. 

“I discovered that I was actually riddled with endometriosis,” she said. 

“You just become so accustomed to being dismissed and being belittled and ignored. 

“You have to fight for every single little thing.” 

Women of any age can develop endometriosis and the HSE recommends contacting your GP as soon as symptoms develop as delay can make treatment less effective.

You can listen back here:

Main image: A woman in pain. 

Share this article

Read more about

Endometriosis Healthcare Inequality Medicine Women Women's Healthcare

Most Popular