When your doctor mislabels you as an “anxious female”

by Carolyn Thomas  @HeartSisters

Take it from me: the only thing worse than a heart attack is being misdiagnosed and sent home from hospital while you’re having it. And for women in particular, this is a tragically all-too-common reality.  Research on cardiac misdiagnoses reported in The New England Journal of Medicine(1), for example, looked at more than 10,000 heart patients (48% of them women) who had gone to their hospital Emergency Departments with chest pain or other significant heart attack symptoms. Women younger than 55 were SEVEN TIMES more likely to be misdiagnosed and turned away from the E.R. than their male counterparts.

The consequences of this reality for women were enormous: being sent home from the hospital in mid-heart attack doubled their chances of dying.

Some of the most popular cardiac misdiagnoses that heart attack survivors have told me about include physician guesses like indigestion, menopause, stress, gall bladder issues, exhaustion, pulled muscles, dehydration and more. But perhaps the most distressing misdiagnosis to trip from the lips of an Emergency Department physician is “anxiety”. This one single word is instantly both dismissive and embarrassing. And worse, to have the diagnosis of “anxious female” recorded permanently on a woman’s chart virtually guarantees a definitive psychiatric stereotype for all future medical visits.  

Kathleen is one woman who knows what it’s like to be saddled with that “anxious female” tag.  After surgery to remove a brain tumour, she wrote me in April from Oakland, California to share her own experience of being so labelled:

I discovered that my original primary doc had added ‘anxiety’ to my official list of conditions back in 2005. I was severely hypothyroid, it turned out, with a TSH of 11.2, but he never reconsidered his ‘anxiety’ diagnosis, which, from that day forward, was at the top of my medical record.

“And that diagnosis isn’t just a comment:  in my medical record, The Problem List is the very first thing every single doctor sees, after my name and file number, and (being an alphabetical list) ‘anxiety’ is at the very top.

“When I began to search for another doctor, I was unaware that this diagnosis would follow me. I have no doubt that it set the stage for the references to ‘anxious female’ that then appeared throughout my HMO files.

“My medical history is long and complex, including an ominous family cardiac history on both sides as well – certainly not suitable for docs who like easy cookie cutter diagnoses.

“I am convinced that ‘anxiety’ has been an obstacle to my appropriate diagnosis and treatment.”

In 2008, the disturbing results of a Cornell University study(2) called Gender Bias in the Diagnosis, Treatment, and Interpretation of Coronary Heart Disease Symptoms were presented at a scientific meeting hosted by the Cardiovascular Research Foundation. The study examined whether physicians tend to evaluate heart patients differently despite comparable symptoms and risk factors – based only on their gender.

The study’s results might seem distressingly familiar to any woman who has ever been (mistakenly) told, as I was: “It is NOT your heart!” by those with the letters M.D. after their names. 

Half of the patient charts used in this study indicated that a patient had recently experienced a significant life stressor and that they appeared anxious. Each physician read one version of the record and was then asked to specify a diagnosis, make treatment recommendations, and indicate the probable cause of the described symptoms.

Results showed a significant gender bias when heart disease symptoms were presented in the context of stress, with fewer women receiving coronary heart disease diagnoses (15% vs 56%), cardiologist referrals (30% vs 62%), and prescriptions of cardiac medication (13% vs 47%) compared to the men.

Researchers also found that the presence of stress shifted the interpretation of women’s chest pain, shortness of breath and irregular heart rate so that these were thought to have a psychological origin.

By contrast, men’s identical symptoms were perceived as cardiac whether or not emotional stressors were present.

As Dr. Alexandra J. Lansky, director of the Women’s Health Initiative at the Cardiovascular Research Foundation said at the time:

“We know that there is a delay in diagnosing coronary heart disease in women, and this study is an important step forward in understanding why.”

The trouble is, dear readers, there are very few experiences in life more anxiety-producing than fearing you might actually be experiencing a heart attack.

Unless you present to Emergency in a coma, in fact, my guess is that most of you would certainly be displaying clear signs of extreme anxiety while in the throes of a cardiac event.

So if you’re a woman, you might be alarmed to learn that this study’s results predict that your heart attack symptoms are significantly more likely to be misinterpreted as merely stress-related compared to men with the same symptoms. And then, on top of physically distressing cardiac symptoms, you’ll also be suffering profound embarrassment and shame over “making a fuss about nothing”.

As another of my readers explained:

“For 10 years before finally being correctly diagnosed with atrial fibrillation, I experienced: palpitations, pounding heart and accelerated heart rate, sweating, trembling/shaking, shortness of breath, chest pain/discomfort, feeling dizzy and lightheaded, and fatigue. My inexperienced (and former) PCP was convinced the symptoms were due to anxiety, and a young cardiologist was quite dismissive (those pesky “women of a certain age”).

“Eventually my episodes were so frequent that A-Fib was captured on an ECG. Years later, I pulled my medical records and read that the 28 year old PCP had written I had ‘magical, mythical thinking’ about my health.”

What can women do about this systemic gender bias? Here’s what our patient Kathleen reported that she has done since discovering that “anxious female” descriptor in her own medical records:

“I have called those docs on their use of that ‘anxious female’ label and will NOT accept explanations like: ‘It’s really not what you think. Anxiety is normal in a setting like this’ or ‘That’s my way of saying that a patient needs a little extra time…’ 

“I sent several relevant links to one of those ‘anxious female’ docs who was humoring me. When I told him that a growing body of research shows that these biases and labels are detrimental and dangerous, he said he would be interested in references. Perhaps he is humoring me this time too, but I gave him a bunch – including a link to that New England Journal of Medicine study reported here on Heart Sisters.(1)

“A false ‘anxiety’ flag on my chart does not help me.

UPDATE:  See Kathleen’s comment (below) in which she tells us: “I would like to report that ‘Anxiety’ has been removed from my official Problem List,  finally. Past records will not be changed, but it no longer tops my records. I’m still working for educational discussion of this experience, to reduce likelihood of others suffering from the same error and dismissal.”


© 2012 Carolyn Thomas   ♥  Heart Sisters www.myheartsisters.org

Q:  Have you been mistakenly labelled an “anxious female” during a serious health crisis?

See also:

(1) Pope JH, Aufderheide TP, Ruthazer R, et al. “Missed diagnoses of acute cardiac ischemia in the emergency department”. N Engl J Med. 2000;342:1163-1170.
(2) Chiaramonte G et al. “Gender Bias in the Diagnosis, Treatment, and Interpretation of CHD Symptoms”. Cardiovascular Research Foundation. 2008, October 12. ScienceDaily. 2008/10/081012121314

151 thoughts on “When your doctor mislabels you as an “anxious female”

  1. It happened to me last Oct through November (2018). I was told to get more exercise and given prescriptions for antidepressants which I refused to take. Finally went to my husband’s cardiologist from years ago. I was immediately referred for an angiogram.

    In less than 24 hrs I had a stent in the LAD 80% blocked.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. My doctor is doing this to me right now – forcing me to go see a psychiatrist before attempting to address my extremely onerous physical symptoms that directly affect my ability to live every single second of the day – and I have no idea how to deal with it.

    I had horrible facial pain about two years ago. I walked into urgent care, the intake nurse glanced at my record, and told me to go back on antidepressants. The visit took five minutes. I dealt with what turned out to be an abscess in my face for months afterward.

    I’m terrible at advocating for myself and I leave my PCP’s office frustrated to the point of tears every time, but I feel like it’s out of my hands now that my record has mental illness stamped all over it.

    It’s absolutely unacceptable that this is still the norm in 2018.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Leila, your abscess story sounds so dreadful! I think you’ve managed to hit the nail on the head however, when you write that “I’m terrible at advocating for myself”. The more you repeat this belief to yourself, the less you will consider yourself able to get the respect and attention you deserve. You CAN be a good advocate for yourself, but you just need to figure out the most effective way to make that happen. You might, for example, try to figure out a new way to approach your physician (i.e. not doing whatever you’ve been trying up until now that has not worked for you). If you’ve haven’t written down a clear and concise list of your top 3 concerns, try that. If you haven’t brought a friend or family member in with you before for moral support, try doing that. All of this is only “out of your hands” if you give up. Hang in there…


    2. Leila, the nurse practitioner told you to take antidepressants for an abscess! This is a clear and concrete example. It’s enough.

      It’s not okay that women have so many extra hurdles, but self advocacy is a necessary skill that most of us learn under fire. When I present a problem, I assemble evidence and make notes for myself: What do l want the practitioner to understand? What are the options? What do I want?

      I feel more confident if I set that for myself in advance. As I said to my “anxious female” doc before I divorced him, “I know when something is wrong I don’t always know exactly what it is. But you didn’t take me seriously.”

      Within a year after leaving his practice, I was diagnosed with 3 serious conditions that I had been reporting for years.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Thank you for adding this, Kathleen! Yours is a concrete example of somebody who not only had been mislabeled as “anxious” but managed to successfully get that label removed from your charts!


  3. Oh, yeah, my “stress” and “anxiety” has manifested itself in a series of TIAs the last few years, and no relief of constant migraine pain.

    When you’re a kid, it’s “growing pains,” when you’re a teen it’s “adolescent anxiety,” when you’re a young mum it’s “housewife syndrome” or “post-partum depression,” and after that it’s “menopause” or “mid-life crisis.”

    Beyond that, it’s “dementia” or anything they can come up with to avoid admitting that they don’t know what the $&@% to do with you. Meanwhile, pass the painkillers and bill my insurance. I sometimes *hate* doctors. Complacent ones, anyway. Gosh, I sure do hope this IS just indigestion …

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Well said, Jody. It’s almost as if there’s some kind of unwritten umbrella code for interpreting puzzling symptoms, and it’s called anxiety. This theme reminds me of one of my blog readers who asked her physician (after he recommended anti-anxiety meds) if the drugs would help her carry the laundry basket up her basement stairs, because right now she was unable to do that anymore…


  4. I forget to mention the heart-attack wasn’t your norm either. After having the attack, I passed out for two or three days. I awoke with a breaking fever and called 911. The paramedics assumed it was the flu and threw a mask on my face. Just what I didn’t need – another layer of cloth to obstruct limited breathing. After explaining the unusual past with my heart to the physician, he checked for a heart attack … Which it did indeed confirm.

    Mask removed – what a relief!

    The blackout and fever which isn’t normal for most people had something to do with the long misdiagnoses.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I can relate to your stories. I was 27 or 28 when I awoke with a heart that was beating like it was ready to explode. I remember running to my doctor who immediately dismissed it as anxiety. That was in 1985.

    My gut told me he was wrong so I set out to seek a second, third, fourth … up to eight different opinions. Heart disease didn’t run in my family nor did I know anyone who had heart problems. After eight different doctors … even I started to consider the diagnosis of anxiety.

    I also made numerous trips to the ER. I want to mention no physician ever did an EKG and other than the ER, no one ever listened to my heart. The overwhelming response was based on my age. I was too young to have heart problems. Doctors were way more bias or stupid than today. I know that may sound a bit harsh.

    For over twenty years I suffered from a rapid heart beat, shortness of breath, chest pains and fatigue. After awhile the abnormal became my norm.

    It wasn’t until I was diagnosed with kidney stones (22 yrs later) that my heart became an issue again. During a post-op examine a team of physicians came flying into the room. I wasn’t sure what was wrong but they continuously asked how I felt. I assured them I was fine and of course wanted an explanation. They couldn’t give me one but sent me to a cardiologist the following morning. They also refused the surgery but took more EKGs.

    At nine am the next day I’m hooked up to an EKG at the cardiologist office. Within a minute he comes flying in like it was an emergency. At this point I was demanding an explanation but he’s more concerned with “how I was feeling”. After assuring him I was fine he then explained every EKG confirmed I was having a stroke … eight in all. He went on to say that I should be feeling this and was in disbelief that I wasn’t. After speaking with me awhile … he did believe I felt fine and this was probably my normal.

    As incredible as this must sound, it’s a perfect example of how abnormal becomes the norm. Later I learned that my heart was permanently damaged from years of this misdiagnosis. Within a few years I had a predicted heart attack. There’s still more to do and decisions to be made. Certainly not a future l look forward too.

    My advice is to always follow your gut. Always research your treatment and never be afraid to disagree. You have an advantage that wasn’t available to me … the internet. If needed switch doctors, find one willing to negotiate and not dictate. My biggest regret is not trusting myself. After all, you live in your body, not your doctor.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Lauren, this statement of yours really hit me: “After awhile the abnormal became my norm.” I suspect that this reality is very common, especially when experts with the letters MD after their names tell us our symptoms are NOT caused by what we think is the culprit!


    2. Thank you! We are the only ones living in our particular body, and, as you show us so well, it is especially dangerous for a malfunction to become ‘normal’.

      It’s serious that most MDs are oblivious to their own biases. Recently a doctor told me that she thinks that “…most women tend to be ‘worried well’,” while men ignore their problems until unbearable.

      The story of a friend and coworker reminds me of yours, though he was one of the latter. He had passed out and was taken to the ER, where they came rushing over to ask him about his cardiac meds. His heart was racing between 180 and over 200. He smiled. “No meds. That’s about what it does. Oh, since the early 1970s.”

      He had simply lived with it. Only his heart damage, like yours, was permanent.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hello Kathleen – I’m betting my next squirt of my nitro spray that the doctor who has already decided that “…most women tend to be ‘worried well’, while men ignore their problems until unbearable” tends to diagnose her patients in precisely that order. So her male patients don’t have to fight to be believed, but her female patients do.

        Your co-worker’s example is a classic – he just somehow got used to living with what turned out to be a medical emergency. He’s so lucky he passed out that day…


  6. I am currently going through all of the EXACT symptoms as you.

    It all started after giving birth to my fifth child, Adelle. After being discharged from the hospital, I felt my heart pounding and racing. My husband called the doctors office and it was dismissed as a side affect from the blood pressure medicine he put me on for delayed pre-eclampsia. Well, the symptoms went on and on and had gotten to the point where I was short of breath, trembling, shaky, weak, light headed, and dizzy. I noticed that after eating salty and unhealthy foods that my symptoms would come on and strong!

    Because of this I decided to change the way I eat and have been on a strict low sodium, clean food diet. Well, i was never overweight , but after having my baby I was 160, 5 ft 7. I am now 122 pounds and still miserable. My daughter is now 15 months and the episodes are more frequent…. I have no energy and symptoms worsen with exertion.

    I am scared that I will constantly be overlooked due to my age(26) and my appearance (African American and slender build) I switched cardiologists and just turned my Holter monitor in yesterday morning and awaiting my results. Hoping that whatever it is can be fixed.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I do want to thank you for sharing your story, I’ve had to call an ambulance just about everyday for the last two weeks, some of the EMS team have been able to catch it as its happening and have said it looks like a-fib or tachycardia… however by the time of arrival to the hospital, symptoms have subsided and nothing has been done! ANXIETY had been shoved down my throat and it’s scary, humiliating and alarming. The thought haunts me of my heart giving out because of this going on so long without treatment…it makes me feel as if I’m just being sent home to continue on a journey to death… By heart issues…


    2. Hello Lyddia – I’m so sorry you are going through all this and feeling “miserable”. Right now, you simply don’t know if your distressing symptoms are heart-related or not, but something is causing them, and it will be a relief to find out exactly what. At this point, no matter what the diagnosis, at least your physicians will then have treatment guidelines in place so you can feel better and get back to enjoying your beautiful babies… Best of luck to you…


  7. I can’t thank you enough for this article.

    37yr old with the same issues and frustrations. Symptoms started late into my second pregnancy 2yrs ago, and cleared up after birth. Struck with fainting spells last Nov that culminated in syncope while driving. Two hospitalizations later, and I’m still the “anxious female” nowhere near having an official diagnosis of what’s causing these symptoms. “Anxiety” still rules supreme at the very top of my medical conditions. This despite uncontrolled hypertension (w/BP meds), abnormal EKGs, and other failed cardio workups. Anxiety discussion came up every single time during consults that PCP finally placed me on anti-anxiety medication with no positive results. This after the classic, “Just give them a try to see how it goes.” After keeping a detailed daily journal of symptoms, cardiologist is finally beginning to rule out anxiety. Tilt-table test and neurological checkup coming up.

    Meanwhile, this happened: I’ve had to bring my husband along for the most recent visits to “corroborate” for me. During one of them, doctor asked, “Are your explosive temper outbursts under control after taking anxiety medication?” Before I could even answer, my husband demanded clarification of non-existent symptoms. Wait for it…doctor answered, “Wrong patient!”

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Wrong patient?


      WRONG PATIENT?!?!??!


      It’s bad enough coping with that “anxious female” label. But when you also have to cope with the medical history of an entirely different patient mixed up in the doctor’s mind, that is simply too much!

      I sure hope your upcoming tests help to solve your medical mystery, Nhoel!


      1. N.B. If you would rather not print this rant, I quite understand.

        More has to be done to stem the quick diagnosis of anxiety. I just came from the ER. I received no informational sheets that dealt with my presenting problem. Instead, the doctor told me I had generalized anxiety disorder, and, now, I have an informational sheet as testimony. The National Association for/or whatever Mental Illness has done squat to counter this unceasing bias against women, and I consider that organization (which I know of due to my mother’s serious psychiatric problems – another reason for bias against their daughters, right?), worse than useless; damaging.

        So, here I am. There were objective findings on exam, validating my finding of a hard lump in my anterior right leg. which was validated as being warm to the touch. I’ve had this for almost one month, but symptoms changed yesterday, with spasms/pulsing/ or throbbing setting in. I had had no injuries.

        I’ve been going through an extraordinarily hard time. I don’t know what kind of presentation would have kept the physician from leaping to “generalized anxiety disorder” but, as other women have documented, once the word “anxiety” is in the medical records, it’s a free pass for any provider who ever sees you as long as you live.

        Did I mention I was not given one bit of instruction for my leg lump? Not – try a warm cloth, cold cloth, wiggle toes – -nothing. Three pages on generalized anxiety disorder. Oh yeah – doctor says, “You roll your eyes every time I say, “anxiety.” Actually, I looked away. It was either that or experience cardiac symptoms – or curse.

        I really wanted to curse. I’m elderly now. I barely made it through the summer. The four-letter, and other choice words, I wanted to use were pressing hard. Of course, one cannot use them.

        I’ll say this: I think every woman should record every single physician or other provider encounter. I don’t have an electronic device, like an ipad. I sure do wish I’d had one today. Despite knowing better, there is one part of me that always believes them.

        As someone else noted, why wouldn’t you be less than calm if you are presented in an ER, although I do see people coming through the door on stretchers who, I’m coming to the conclusion – that they don’t DARE show any emotion whatsoever. They tend not to even speak. (I was parked in the hallway by the ambulance door, again, so you do get to make these observations).

        I’ll cut this somewhat shorter: I already have a diagnosis of Post Traumatic Stress disorder. I’ve had that diagnosis for 17 years. I am upfront about it. I think we should take a poll: out of all the times when a woman had, essentially, hysterical woman thrown at her, how often did the physician actually DO anything about it, even to offer some semblance of compassion – “Tough times, eh?” The diagnosis is in my medical records because I made sure it was there. Now, can we please get on with my presenting chest, leg, or other concern?

        But today, I was calm. I wasn’t thinking the worst – although the physician swore I was insisting that might be an embolism – completely ignoring that I said, “muscle spasm? nerve compaction? and, then thrombosis of some type?

        Fortunately, because there is the palpable lump in my leg, an ultrasound was ordered, and it was thorough. But then, the physician said it was “over-the-top” because the u/s technician did a completely thorough job of it.

        Also, two nurses told me I was being discharged, and then the physician shows up asking me if I was leaving without being discharged. (The nurses later told me there was a foul-up). If you think this blankety-blank ‘physician’ didn’t still “blame” me, or didn’t dump that on me, then I’d be mighty surprised.

        Still, none of this is going to change them, or the way individuals who have some run-of-the-mill kind of neurosis, are treated. We will continue to present with our hearts in their hands, until there are measures in place to ensure that attention is given where it is not only needed, but demanded. The problem is this: trying to convince anyone that you were fine, mentally, against what the physician says, is like trying to convince someone that tobacco is the best medicine ever created. The stigma is too great. It is so great that part of me always internalizes the labeling. After all, they’re the ones with the power. — Do you ever have the thought that violent criminals are treated better, and without as much stigma? I do. Somehow, just being female is “just cause.”

        With this hospital system, there is no point in filing a complaint with quality assurance, either. And, I’d bet you that there are few women who aren’t given some kind of psychiatric-related comment, if not label, when they – we – present with even objective problems. (And I was told they would call me tonight when all the lab work was in. It’s been four hours since I left. Shall I hold my breath).

        Oh right. I was also given an information sheet for GERD. Now, I’d just told the doctor that I was recently started on medication for that. … did the doctor think that what he dished out was going to heal my gut? Lower my physician-induced raised systolic blood pressure?

        It took last night, and most of today before I decided that a throbbing, warm lump in my leg necessitated an ER visit, rather than waiting. The ER doctor grilled me on why I chose to come to the ER today – Saturday – even though my first statement was that the throbbing/spasm whatever it is began yesterday, and that was a significant change. What the heck kind of test was being given here?

        I wish there was someone with greater authority, who was fully sanctioned by the powers-that-be, who could be called the second a woman sees that sideways glance that tells her, she’s not in any danger – she’s just anxious. Well, more than that, now. NOW, I feel nauseated, almost paranoiac, and hopeless that this situation will ever change. I’m too worn out to keep up the fight, myself.


        1. This is an important addition. Once the physician threw out anxiety, I could not fully attend to what he said about my test results or findings. This blanking out occurs in non-bias medical situations as well. Another reason to record everything, even if you have someone with you. Also, for the first time in my life, I signed a paper that may or may not have been some kind of discharge form, that I did not read.

          I want to add that nurses, and other hospital staff could do more to support patients when they observe this bias. It is unlikely they would lose their job; there is a significant nursing shortage. Then again, maybe the hospital systems don’t care. One more point: 4 hours in the ER – 7 hours, and counting, trying to combat the lousy emotional state I am now in. To other ladies writing here – I believe you.


    2. OMG! That is just unacceptable! 😤 you know, I’ve recently brought my husband along to my last appointment, before I was placed on a heart monitor the following day, to speak up for me. This appointment I saw the Physician’s Assistant, the doctor thinks I’m crazy. However, he was very kind and listened and said he just wants to help me. I broke down in tears. I hope that everything is okay with you, its very hard to deal with this stuff.


  8. I’m not alone. I’ve had some serious heart symptoms and they’re getting worse. Heart problems do run in my family. But my latest doctor who is a female doctor said something vague about it being just “nerves” and suggested that I see a psychiatrist. I told her that that doesn’t do anything at all. They can’t/don’t help me. She suggested it twice.

    I’m looking for another doctor. I’m just going to see a specialist, as I’ve experienced such severe weakness & shortness of breath that I almost lost consciousness, which is not just nerves. I really thought that having a female doctor would make a difference. But they’re guilty of the same bias. So appalling, the amount of negligence in the medical community.


    1. Hello Goth Writer – I’d be careful about making assumptions about male vs female docs (I have a wonderful female GP, but two equally wonderful male docs – my cardiologist and my pain specialist, for example). As you know, so much of medicine is just trying to figure out what the problem is NOT, as docs work their way down the path of solving a mystery. Inability to hit upon an accurate first diagnosis may not be a sign of physician bias at all – but just a really tricky set of symptoms. By the way, I believe that ALL patients suffering with chronic illness symptoms would do well to get support through talk therapy, so don’t shut that door while you’re trying to solve other mysteries. Best of luck to you..


      1. No not assumptions, I’ve had plenty of experience with bias from docs. And it doesn’t just come from male docs, but female as well. After all you’ve pointed out here in a few places many examples of this, not to mention many other’s experiences. I was commiserating, but it seems as if now I’m being told that I’m mistaken. Just because there is a lot of stress in my life doesn’t mean that I’m not experiencing things as I’ve stated (bias, serious medical problems) I already suffer with a disability, which is difficult for doctors to figure. I’ve been dealing with stigma for over a decade.


        1. It can be very frustrating and stressful when we feel terrible and then to pick up that our reports are not taken seriously.

          But throughout the years in which I struggled to get appropriate medical diagnoses and treatment, my counselor (initially referred because of my Anxiety) played a valuable role.

          She confirmed that my assessments most certainly were not imbalanced, that I had plenty of reason for “situational anxiety,” given that serious medical problems were not taken seriously, and on a few occasions she helped me find doctors who were a better fit. I was sorry when she retired and was not replaced. But that is the way of cost-cutting in healthcare in the US.

          Liked by 2 people

          1. Good points, Kathleen. I’ve often said that anxiety is indeed a common (some might say universal) companion of patients without accurate diagnoses and/or treatment plans. And no wonder! When professional counseling is available, it can indeed play a valuable role. Sometimes, we just need all the help we can get…


          2. I used to go to therapy & before I discovered that I actually have Hashimoto’s, suffered with depression for years. Spent years going to the same place for therapy & antidepressants when I gradually began to feel & get worse my clinic discharged me for not being able to make it to my appts. I was, and still am, really bitter about that. They didn’t even try to work with me due to my worsening condition. So then that didn’t help me at all. I am now too sick to make it to many appts. at all. The weakness, fatigue, & sleep issues have made it so I’m usually too sick to even go to even one appt. I did start treating my thyroid which helped me considerably (no more depression for several years & no need for antidepressants), but I was never able to return to that place that I went for therapy. Now I’ve cycled through several doctors still looking for someone who will listen & take me seriously & stop suggesting things that I’ve already tried.


      2. Also wasn’t implying that there aren’t good docs out there of both genders, just that the gender bias that we experience comes from both as well. I was just making sure that I was clear.


  9. I have read so many blogs and feel somewhat disheartened with the bedside manners of many doctors. Women have so many different medical problems from males, symptomatic. And still the medical field dismisses a high percentage of women and their health issues labeling them as anxious, depressed and so forth. This is what is happening and women are suffering because of the repercussions and sheer neglected in the initial stages of diagnosis. We need to question why is this still occurring in today’s modern society? The extremities that woman go to just to get diagnosed and then to be prescribed anti depression medication or anti anxiety medication without the proper diagnosis or correct treatment. The medical field is failing because their model is so backwards in treating females. Why is this so? Why isn’t there changes to their model(s)? Does it go back to the individual doctors that aren’t listening to their patients and dismissing symptoms as described above?

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Back in 2012/2013/2014, I had many episodes of severe, burning chest pain, frequently occurring with tachycardia. I also had extreme fatigue which no amount of sleep would cure. Between the severe episodes of pain my chest constantly ached. I couldn’t ignore it and it didn’t go away. On about 4 or 5 occasions, when the pain became too much to bear, I went to A&E (the British version of the ER). I was given an ECG, x-rayed, given blood tests. I was constantly told I was fine and sent on my way, still in pain and none the wiser. I started ignoring the pain.

    In the end I found the cause of my chest pain, tachycardia and fatigue on my own and cured it myself. I was severely anaemic/anemic as a result of a long-term bleed which I’d had for three and a half years before the cause was found and fixed. I treated my own iron levels with prescription-strength iron supplements and regularly paid for my own blood tests to make sure I didn’t go overboard. I didn’t bother telling my doctor what I was doing – she was happy to give me a prescription for two months of iron supplements but no more. I don’t absorb iron very well, and it took me nearly two years to get all my blood test numbers (which were affected by the low iron) up to optimal levels.

    I do still have a lingering problem with intermittent tachycardia. I take beta blockers for that but only when I absolutely have to. Before I became so severely anaemic I never had any issues with my heart at all.

    So, anyone who is constantly being fobbed off and told their chest pain is all in their head may want to consider getting their iron levels checked. And there is lots more to getting iron checked than just a ferritin level, which is what usually happens in the UK. Do some research into how to diagnose iron deficiency anaemia/anemia, and don’t stop treatment until all those iron-related numbers are optimal, not just at the bottom of the reference range.

    There is another factor that probably affected my heart. I also had untreated hypothyroidism. And low levels of T3 (one of the thyroid hormones) is a major factor in heart problems. Do some research into “Low T3 and the heart”. There is lots of info on the web. I’m still struggling with that one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Susan – thanks for sharing your story here. I’m not a physician so cannot comment on your specific experience, but I can tell you generally that anemia can indeed lead to a rapid or irregular heartbeat because the heart has to pump more blood to compensate for the lack of oxygen in the blood. We also know that heart rhythm, cardiac output, and blood pressure problems resulting from thyroid problems are also well recognized. As Harvard endocrinologist Dr. Giuseppe Barbesino says: “The connection to the heart is well established, but thyroid problems are often overlooked as the cause.” It’s tragic that during your 4-5 visits to the A&E, your doctors suspected neither of these causes. Best of luck to you…


  11. Well, because of that “anxious female” stereotype, I’ve been sitting here for 5 hours, avoiding going to the Emergency Department. My PCP refused to see me, so the ED looked likely. Looks like incredible stress is the culprit this time, or I wouldn’t have been sitting here for 5 hours, but no woman should have to avoid the ED due to these labels. (I think they have a special tome of label-selections for us). I used to get hard copies of all physician visits, which included their subjective notes. Even cardiologists who told me I was gonna die wrote crap like this..


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  13. Thank you so much for this article, I recently sent this to my doctor after another 2 day ECG and a disappointing cardiologist appointment. I have bradycardia and I’ve been labelled anxious, accused of being underweight (though I am in a healthy weight range for my age and height confirmed by my own doctor and a lovely nurse) and also dehydrated though I drink 3-4L a day and my blood tests were fine. He also told me a little story about King Kong when the woman sees him and faints, to which I replied so she had a extreme fear response what has that got to do with me?? He also said to try getting back into my normal routine and that it could just be in my head. I felt like he was saying I had done this to myself which obviously upset me and made me furious. I miss my life so much, I was very active and own 5 horses, before July this year I was competing in 20 mile endurance rides. Now I can’t even walk over to see them without feeling shaky and weak. I’ve had blackouts, palpitations, chest pain, breathlessness, exhaustion and when my heart rate goes up it’s painful. I really hope this will be figured out soon. I’m only 25 and I feel like I’m missing out on so much.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello – I’m not a physician so cannot comment on your specific symptoms except to say generally that it does appear your symptoms have been seriously considered (tests ordered, cardiologist consultation etc – which is far better than many women experience). When you say you had a “disappointing” meeting with the cardiologist, I’m guessing it’s because no cardiac diagnosis was offered – which could also mean that this issue is in fact not heart-related at all, which would be good news. Something is causing your symptoms, and anxiety could be the culprit too. I’d start keeping a symptom journal if I were you (be very specific, date, time, your activity prior to symptom starting, what you ate in the hours leading up to symptoms etc) rather than just listing general overall symptoms. This may reveal a pattern. Best of luck to you…


  14. How can I convinced my dr to check my heart? the last dr said he thinks it is all in my head. I wake up at night out of breath, I am on Venteze most of the day because I am out of breath. I am so tired in the day, I get headaches mostly every day, some days I feel my heart pump out of my chest, my feet swell and my ankles, I get a funny pain at my back many nights. I have heartburn every single day and night for the last 2 years,and nothing works for it. Some days my blood presure is too high and some days too low, Today I had a dizzy feeling, it felt like when you get glasses to wear for the first time and you get that dizzy feeling and off balance. I am really fed up with the doctors, they just don’t seem to care. All they say is it’s all in my head, or stress.

    Thank you.


    1. Hello Petro – I’m not a physician so of course cannot comment on your specific situation. It does sound like you have a whole range of distressing symptoms all at the same time which makes it far harder for doctors to identify what exactly is causing any one symptom. You might want to start keeping a Symptom Journal for the next few weeks in which you write down what you’re feeling, what time of day, what you were doing in the 1-2 hours leading up to that symptom starting. Sometimes doctors can spot a pattern when everything is precisely written down, rather than hearing the patient say something vague like: “I get headaches mostly every day.” Something is causing your symptoms, you just don’t know if any of them are heart-related or not at this point. I’m guessing your doctor is at least partially correct in saying you’re stressed (having that long list of problems would stress anybody!) Best of luck to you…


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  16. Hi ladies, I just found this site and it’s a big relief! I’m really young, had an episode of congestive heart failure when I was 18, along with other health issues. I was later diagnosed with relapsing polychondritis, a rare disease where the immune system attacks anything with collagen, so all my cartilage, kidneys, and heart chambers. After 5 years of fighting this with Immunosuppressants and chemo, for the past year it has been in remission.

    Then a month ago, my kidneys started acting up, and things got worse. On Thursday evening before going to bed my jaw began trembling, and my lower face went numb, then my abdomen began hurting and spasming really bad. The pain spread to my chest.

    My husband said we should go to the hospital, and we got ready but as I went down the stairs to the first floor of my house it felt like my heart exploded. It was one of the worst stabbing pains, but I thought I could pee before heading out to the hospital. I got to the bathroom and the pain radiated abruptly to my neck, back, and my left arm. My left arm went entirely numb and the pain was excruciating, my heart was completely out of control and breathing was impossible so I collapsed to the floor. I lost consciousness and don’t remember what happened during the event.

    My husband called 911, and the paramedics showed up 20 min later. I regained some consciousness a few min before they showed up, but I could not move from the floor and was clutching my chest from the pain and could barely breathe.

    The paramedics felt my pulse and said that I seemed to be coming out of pre-cardiac arrest. Then they asked my husband how old I was, and he said 24. Well they flipped out, and said that it was IMPOSSIBLE for me to have any heart issues!!! They did not bother to do an EKG, and didn’t want to take me to the hospital!

    My husband told them about my health history and they completely dismissed it, eventually they decided to measure my blood pressure and my pulse was 187, with my blood pressure through the roof. They once again said that it was impossible and the machine was probably broken. I was dismayed and in shock. They pushed me to get up, and told me that I just had an anxiety attack.

    I know that it was not an anxiety attack, and they had no right to misjudge me and treat me like that, especially without even doing an EKG! Isn’t that mandatory for them to do?
    After much pleading, they finally took me to the Kaiser hospital, and everyone at the hospital treated me like shit. My chest was in so much pain and I could barely breathe or walk, they made it clear that I was just wasting their time with an anxiety attack. The hospital had to do my EKG 3 times because it kept coming up abnormal! And guess what they said? “Hmm, looks like the machine is broken, this is impossible you are just a young woman” Ugh, worst most humiliating experience. They sent me home with high blood pressure and with an antibiotic for my kidney infection. Isn’t it illegal to send a patient home with high blood pressure?

    I feel terrible, been bed-ridden since the event, my heart has continued to act up and I’ve only managed to maintain it by chewing on aspirin tablets. I don’t know what to do, and worse of all is the paramedics labeled me as “low priority” in case we call them again, and the hospital diagnosed me with “anxiety”. Any advice would be greatly appreciated.


    1. Hello Mrs. TooYoung – your story is shocking on many levels. It’s hard to believe that medical professionals would repeatedly blame faulty diagnostic technology based only on unexpected results. I’m not a physician so of course cannot comment specifically on your symptoms, but I can tell you generally that if your polychondritis began acting up one month ago, you should ideally be under the regular care of your physician by now rather than relying on calling 911 in the middle of the night, or repeatedly chewing aspirin tablets (which can irritate the stomach and cause potentially dangerous internal bleeding). If you haven’t already done so yesterday, make an appointment with your family doctor as soon as possible to review all aspects of your case. Best of luck to you…


    2. What a horrible experience! Even I am shocked, Mrs. Too Young. I was trained in statistics once upon a time, and find that an outrageous number of doctors understand so little that they think it is appropriate to dismiss “unlikely” results. Please see your PCP asap, and write up your experience to date as well as you can, with dates, times, test and results. Your well-being depends on finding the right doctor.

      Liked by 1 person

        1. All excellent posts, Carolyn. A common error, indeed, but it is an absolute fallacy to dismiss a diagnosis because “That would be unusual/improbable.” Even if a particular condition is uncommon in a general population (not merely under-diagnosed), some people have it, and each of them has it 100%. I have been diagnosed with 4 different “rare” conditions, each of which initially was not considered (or was dismissed). In the end, the “improbable” condition best fits the evidence.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. So true, Kathleen. Remember that old zebra analogy that med students are taught? “When you hear hoof beats, think of horses, not zebras.” This strategy virtually guarantees that the “rare” diagnostic possibility will be discarded right off the bat – even when it may actually be the correct answer. Docs are also taught to treat to numbers, so if the “numbers” aren’t there to clearly point to a specific diagnosis, they may feel eager to quickly move on to what seems the next most likely culprit. Or, as in Mrs. TooYoung’s examples, providers might simply doubt the test results they do see if there’s a computational disconnect.


            1. Hi Carolyn and Kathleen, thank you so much for your input and advice.

              There’s some things I want to clarify. I have been being seen by my PCP constantly, especially with the kidney issues. Just that Wednesday before my heart event on Thursday he saw me and scheduled me for an ultrasound on Friday. The relapsing polychondritis (RP) was diagnosed by a group of the best rheumatologists, and from the specialty doctors of the RP center in Seattle. I was even part of one of their studies.

              However none of my history mattered to the paramedics that night of my heart event. We also had no choice but to call 911 given the abrupt symptoms that presented. They simply judged me and labeled me and treated me as such rather than taking the time to listen and help me out when I needed help the most. With such a label of an “anxious young woman” the hospital they took me too, followed suit by keeping the same judgement and label. No matter how many times I begged them to check my heart, given my medical history, they did not even care to know what RP was and the implications that had on my current health.

              They neglected me, because they were superior and had more authority than my husband and I or any of my symptoms. It was also the first time we had ever called 911, and after that experience we’ll never do that again. It’s easier for most doctors, paramedics, etc. to place you in a box, than spend more than 10 min using their brain to figure out your complex issues.


              1. Hello again – so glad that you’re under the regular care of your own doctor. I hope you have seen him/her since Thursday’s ER incident, and that a treatment plan is now in place (your solution of repeatedly chewing aspirin tablets, for example is very concerning, and your doc should be addressing this). I also hope that you and your husband will file reports about your experience to both Kaiser and the ambulance company.


              2. I am very glad that you are under regular care, and are satisfied with your day-to-day care, though concerned about the effects of long-term aspirin use. Hope you do follow up with Kaiser, as your experience was terrible, as are its implications for the care of others. You have spurred me to finish with one of my own projects with Kaiser, which is a training ground for the next generation of doctors. Yes, sometimes there really are zebras in town…

                Liked by 1 person

                1. Hi Kathleen! That would be incredible, doctors need to reconnect back with the patient, and actually listen. It’s been too many times that doctors just want to get you out of their office within 5 min. Especially here in the US, when they just throw pills at you without addressing the underlying issue of your symptoms. Best of luck in your project, hope it yields great results!

                  Also, I would like to let you ladies know that it was 911, who told my husband that I should chew an aspirin if my chest pain got out of control since my event last Thursday. I’m not sure where it was misunderstood that I “repeatedly chew on aspirin tablets”? I have only needed to do this twice, as a last resort. Trust me that I know very well the dangers of medications and their interactions, especially when you have a life-threatening disease, I have to be very careful with what I take.

                  Today I have a cardiologist appointment, so hopefully I’ll get some answers soon 🙂 thank you Carolyn and Kathleen for your kind words and wishes!


                  1. I suspect we may have mistakenly assumed you were taking aspirins when you wrote “my heart has continued to act up and I’ve only managed to maintain it by chewing on aspirin tablets”. Good luck with your cardiologist’s appointment today!


                  2. Thanks for clearing that up, Mrs. TooYoung. Carolyn is right: I certainly misunderstood and am glad that you haven’t needed aspirin long-term. (A relative recently did have a perforated ulcer caused by exactly that.) Best wishes with your cardiologist appt.


  17. I just looked up my patient care summary on my (alternative!) physician’s web portal, and I see that “Anxiety Disorder” has been added since my last visit. I don’t feel anxious at all, except about the fact that my muscles constantly burn, I can barely crawl out of bed and am exhausted all day, and have frequent nausea, as well as hair loss when I eat gluten or dairy. And my anxiety is because it’s hard to drag through the day like this, not because I’m ‘worried’ about what’s wrong, per se.

    My life is great, I have a career, a family, and have finally gotten on track as far as taking care of myself mentally and physically. My mind is clear and I just can’t believe I would be stressed and don’t know it.

    It’s insulting and embarrassing when doctors suggest that it’s all in my head. I’m just so tired of feeling sick. And I don’t even care that much what the diagnosis is, because I’m barely living anyway. I just want to know what’s going on.

    It’s hard for me to believe that these seven years of declining health is related to anxiety. If it weren’t me speaking, I would tell someone with these symptoms to get their thyroid tested, but I was diagnosed hypothyroid 20 years ago, and haven’t been well no matter what my levels are. T3 didn’t help either.

    Wishing wellness (and being taken seriously) to all of you.


    1. Well, no wonder you feel ______ (fill in the blank) considering the distressing symptoms you live with, Gemma. I agree – it is insulting and embarrassing to be labelled as anxious as if that’s the sole cause of the symptoms. Speak to your physician for an explanation of that “anxiety disorder” written on your chart. I wish you the gift of being taken seriously by your health care providers…


  18. And this is the exact reason why I don’t have Kaiser anymore. Once a doctor tappy taps into that computer and places a label on you like anxiety it will forever be in there and you will NEVER get a honest second opinion. My doctor put that I had “generalized anxiety disorder” in my chart WITHOUT telling me just because I wanted another opinion..


    1. Well, Jomama, it wasn’t easy but I did get that “Anxiety’ label removed, and have been doing much better with that very HMO ever since. Several serious conditions have been correctly diagnosed, now are treated appropriately, and I feel better than I have for decades. For years I had reported symptoms and even had suggested those very diagnoses – to MDs who chalked up yet another note for Anxiety with barely-tolerant smiles. None of my conditions are the cookie-cutter variety, but I do have them 100%. My current docs acknowledge that my presentation of these conditions is fairly classic. One of them said, “You diagnosed yourself! And they treated you like that!” Just more evidence of what an Anxiety label can do…


  19. I have an auto-immune condition and have had a number of episodes of Pericarditis. I am lucky in that all of the specialists I have seen during these episodes took them seriously, even when nothing showed up on the ECG or ultrasounds. I suppose that it helped that after the first time of nothing showing up after suspected Pericarditis, I had a flare where I had a significant amount of fluid around my heart: 2cm at the back, 1cm at the front. Also, all my other flares where I’ve ended up in hospital, something has shown up on the X-rays, CAT scans, MRI’s etc (except this very last episode). As said: all SPECIALISTS have taken me seriously, not so other medical professionals such as GPs, nurses and physiotherapists.

    Recently after hip-replacement surgery I had a Pulmonary Embolism, and I experienced similar symptoms to Pericarditis and so I assumed that’s what I had. At the time I was in a Rehabilitation hospital and the Registered Nurse didn’t listen, care or want to know. It was in the middle of the night and she didn’t call for a doctor (doctors weren’t on site at night, they had to be called in). Apparently my “Obs were normal” (I know that because she told me so about 10 times).

    She got extremely cross at me when I insisted I had pressure in my chest and couldn’t breathe. (“You can breathe”, she said “You’re breathing aren’t you?”). What upsets me most of all was that I wanted to call an ambulance, or call my husband to call an ambulance, but didn’t. I stayed awake all night, terrified, until the doctor visit the next morning.

    I’ve had this happen a number of times: a GP or nurse dismisses me and I start doubting myself, and feel like I don’t want to “create a fuss”. I kept thinking that the nurse would be pissed off if I called an ambulance to a rehabilitation hospital… how stupid is that?

    The next day when I saw the doctor she immediately organised to send me back to the hospital I came from. As the ambulance men were strapping me on the bed another (different nurse) said (in a loud voice), something to the effect “She says it’s Pericarditis. It’s probably nothing and she’ll be back this afternoon”.

    As I said… it ended up being a Pulmonary Embolism. (I did call the Manager a week later and complained on the phone and in writing. I did receive an apology and an assurance they would improve the training of their staff!)

    After the above episode, a few months back, while still on blood-thinners for the PE, I started having pains like Pericarditis again. The problem was now that I had experienced similar pain for the two different issues. If this had happened prior to the hip-replacement, I would have just assumed that I had a flare coming on and increased my Prednisone, and made an appointment to see my Rheumatologist. But I just wasn’t sure: was it possible the blood thinner wasn’t working well and I had another blood clot?

    So I went to my GP. She said she didn’t think it would be the PE as I was on blood thinner. She also didn’t think it would be Pericarditis because I was on 10mg of Prednisone at the time. I had a blood test for the Troponin enzyme and she called me the next day.

    She said that the Troponin test was negative. She said it was probably anxiety.

    I knew that the Troponin test did not rule out Pericarditis, and I queried her on that, but didn’t push it when she insisted it did. She kept saying it was anxiety. I doubted myself and didn’t increase my Prednisone. (It’s important to catch it before it results in an effusion, otherwise there is a risk of scar build up on the Pericardium!).

    About three weeks ago I stopped the blood thinner on the advice of my Orthopedic Surgeon. A few days later I started having the symptoms again, and I didn’t know whether it was Pericarditis or a Pulmonary Embolism (or anxiety, or nothing!). I ended up going to the ER, was admitted and they ran a battery of tests.

    From the moment I got to hospital they took me seriously and ran every test imaginable for both the PE and Pericarditis- nothing showed up. My managing doctor told me it was probably Pericarditis (Troponin tests measure blood enzymes, nothing to do with inflammation of the lining of the heart!), and of course there can be inflammation without fluid build up. As I knew. After a week on high doses of steroids I am getting back to normal.

    The problem is that the only “proof” of Pericarditis before fluid build-up is “the rub”, and I have never, ever had the rub. My Rheumatologist in the hospital interstate (where all of my previous admissions were) knew me well and saw me through all my flare-ups with fluid on my knees, in my hips, eye-inflammation, with inflammation markers through the roof , so didn’t think to doubt it when I told them I had pressure in my chest, and described all the classic Pericarditis symptoms. So the fact that I didn’t have “the rub” didn’t make them doubt me.

    I am worried that the paperwork going to my GP may say “Suspected Pericarditis”, as there was no “rub”, and she’s going to think she was right and it was Anxiety. I have an appointment the day after tomorrow.

    I’m wondering if I should change GPs. I do like her and have no problems with her until this. If I wasn’t anxious before, I’m now anxious about this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. What an awful, awful story, Maria. No wonder you start to “doubt yourself” and are reluctant to “make a fuss”. That image of you waiting all night long, terrified, until the doctor visit the next morning for what was a pulmonary embolism is horrifying.

      Your statement:“I kept thinking that the nurse would be pissed off if I called an ambulance to a rehabilitation hospital” was particularly compelling for me, as I experienced the same fear of upsetting a nurse during my heart attack after my Emergency nurse had warned me sternly: “You’ll have to stop asking questions of the doctor! He is a very good doctor and he does NOT like to be questioned!” (The question I’d had the temerity to ask was: “But Doc, what about this pain down my left arm?”)

      It can often feel like we are rewarded for being meek and silent, and punished for speaking up or ‘making a fuss’ when asking about appropriate care.

      I can’t respond to your dilemma about changing GPs or not – only you know if that feels like the right option for you. But before deciding, you might want to clearly discuss your frustrations at your next appointment and see how that chat goes. The trouble is, docs tend to treat to numbers: if the tests say *this*, then it must be *that* (or it CAN’T be *that*) – for many, it can be challenging to look beyond the test results to really get what the patient is actually experiencing. But I can say that if you’ve lost trust in her ability to support/believe you, changing GPs might be an option. There’s no way to predict, of course, if a new GP will be more or less supportive. Best of luck to you…


  20. This is frustrating in terms of what to do. I have suffered anxiety for around six years and most of my symptoms are physical manifestations from IBS, GERD, muscle aches, to fatigue. Just the last two years, I’ve been suffering frequent chest pains and shortness of breath that travel to my left arm and after extensive diagnostic tests including numerous EKGs, echo, stress, and holter monitor , my doctors could not find anything wrong and attributed my symptoms to panic attacks.

    I have gone through many stresses in my life and have gone to a therapist for help, including doing meditation and relaxation. After switching my job and getting more hours of sleep, I expected my symptoms would subside by now. Instead, my chest pains have increased and lasted longer. The pain is more of pressure and burning and nagging. I’m getting more fatigue than usual and I feel a lot of pressure/discomfort on my shoulders that is not relieved my massage. I have intermittent jaw pain and what worries me is that I started to have pressure, tight pain on my RIGHT arm. I’ve never had right arm pain when I have anxiety so that is something new.

    I then started to have unusual nausea and indigestion even tho I’m on proton pump inhibitors and taking additional antacids are not relieving the pain. The worst part is that I suddenly have throat pain that is sharp and burning that is not relieved by antacid and food.

    All of this is too coincidental and I’m really afraid this is an actual heart attack. My job is very laid back and I’m not going through tough situations so I have no reason to be anxious (except the symptoms I’m going through). I went to the ER two weeks ago and they went through the diagnostic procedures and again, EKG and blood tests are normal (except they didn’t do troponin test). I’m 29 years old with no history of heart disease so there is no reason for me to be sick and yet I’m getting worse and my doctors are not taking me seriously because of my anxiety.

    At what point do I have to fight for my life? Do I have to chain myself to the hospital and protest until they decide to take me seriously? I’m at my wit’s end. I’m seriously scared I’ll drop dead or my heart is so severely damaged that I will be disabled for the rest of my life and in debt of my medical bills.


    1. Hi Bicky — I’m not a physician so cannot comment specifically to your specific symptoms. I can say that, in general, a heart attack would not typically produce symptoms over a two-year period as you describe. But convincing yourself that you will “drop dead” or have a “severely damaged” heart (especially at your age) or – worse – be disabled for the rest of your life can in itself increase your anxiety over what may or may not be causing these symptoms. It also sounds like you’ve had a number of cardiac diagnostic tests. Please make an appointment with the therapist who helped you previously to help you sort this out. Best of luck to you…


  21. I realise this is an old post but wanted to share & perhaps get some feedback.

    Just over 5 months ago, we’d been back in the UK for about a week, following a trip to Disney with the kids.

    All of a sudden I got palpitations (have had loads so wasn’t worried). But they quickly got extremely strong & were literally pulsing in my chest – then I felt light headed & short of breath. I went dizzy & fell onto the sofa, on my back. I then felt the pulsing & squeezing sensation in my lower jaw. I managed to turn onto my left side & after a short while everything subsided, but I continued to feel drained.

    Coincidentally, found out that I was pregnant with number 3 a couple of days after this & then had the usual extreme morning sickness that lasted 16 weeks.

    Naturally I felt fatigued, & now at 25 weeks I still do but it could be because of the pregnancy. I’ve also had several days of dizzy spells & nausea. Who knows?

    I have a very dismissive doctor & just wanted to hear what you ladies think – should I go & mention this weird episode & prepare for the ridicule or do you think it sounds like nothing much? I don’t know what to think anymore.

    Hope you can shed some light.

    Tamsin xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Tamsin – “extreme morning sickness for 16 weeks!?!” That seems awful! And it sounds like you had this during your first two pregnancies too!?

      I’m not a physician, so can’t comment specifically on whether your symptoms are heart-related or not. I can tell you, however, that a number of studies have suggested that both palpitations (“arrhythmia”) as well as feeling dizzy/light-headed are quite common symptoms in pregnancy.

      The good news is that both complaints are usually benign – meaning they may feel upsetting, but don’t indicate heart problems. There are some cardiovascular conditions that involve very high blood pressure – like preeclampsia – but few if any actual symptoms during pregnancy which your doctor will be checking you for.

      Always mention to your doctor any odd or confusing symptoms just to make sure he/she is right on top of any changes (with or without the “ridicule” – which by the way has no place in doctor-patient communication, don’t you think?!) Best of luck to you with Baby #3!

      Liked by 1 person

    2. Tamsin – Get a new doc! Dismissive docs are worthless when it comes to finding out what is really going on with your health! Find one who listens and who then feeds back what you are saying in his or her attempt to understand what you are communicating! This can mean the difference between life and death!


  22. Thank you – I stumbled across this looking for gender-bias research for a social psych assignment. I’d like to share my own story – but I am not sure that my story results from gender bias so much as a doctor’s preconceptions.

    I have a long history of anorexia, with a long history of admissions, including very severe problems, and I’ve always gone to one particular hospital. It’s a 20 year history. At the time I had, documented, severe heart problems as a result of this history of anorexia.

    One afternoon my case worker took me to emergency as I’d been having chest pains and she was worried. After a very long wait, the young registrar came out, and without having examined me or done any testing – no bloods, no blood pressure, no ECG – proceeded to lecture me on how I was a spoiled, manipulative brat, attention-seeking, wasting his time, and should go home and eat a sandwich. Of course, I got out of there as fast as I could, very hurt and upset. I collapsed that night and was taken back to the hospital where I ended up in ICU – I had extremely low blood pressure, arrhythmia, fluid around my heart, low potassium, and I was severely emaciated.

    Because of this doctor’s preconceptions of me as a spoiled brat, I could have died.

    They need to teach sensitivity and objectivity in medical school.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks so much Fiona for sharing with us this disturbing example of the dangers of a doctor’s preconceptions. I was reading recently about how selective such negative preconceptions can be. If a snowboarder or extreme skier goes to Emergency with yet another sports-related injury, it’s unlikely that he/she would be scolded and psychoanalyzed and sent home, humiliated and untreated. The only focus would be on appropriate diagnostic testing and treatment. But with anorexia (and a number of other conditions sharing the stigma of being self-inflicted), the patient must not only worry about alarming symptoms, but also about having one’s character judged by ignorant strangers. Best of luck to you…


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  24. I was rushed to the ERIC from work several years ago. I had been having chest pain radiating up my neck into my jaw and also down my left arm for about 5 hours. It got very intense, I had trouble with my vision and, apparently while walking back from the bathroom, lost consciousness. A patient’s family member was beside me when I came to. The chest pain at this point was probably an 8. They called the ambulance. The paramedic gave me a nitro under my tongue. All together, that paramedic gave me 2 nitro before getting to the ER. They gave me the third at the ERIC and then gave me nitro paste. The next thing they did was give me morphine. At that point the nitro had stopped my pain but they gave me morphine over my protests.

    The outcome of all this is I still have episodes of severe chest pain but since the cause of my symptoms are unknown (with no testing except for a blood test or 2) I have not gone to be seen and have since (very recently) changed my PCP. Maybe I can get the new doc to listen.

    BTW, I collapsed while working at an assisted living facility as a CNA, which I have been for 24 years now. I was until recently also medication certified. As a caregiver who advocated on behalf of my patients, it is very disturbing and disappointing to be labeled as difficult. I have fybromyalgia, 3 herniated discs, anxiety, depression, etc. But I am just as human as they are and I hope they are never treated the way they have treated me.


      1. Yes, this happened a little more than 2 years ago. I’ve been very lucky that the chest pain I’ve had since is not as intense. I am cautiously hopeful about this new doc. Thank you for allowing me to vent

        Liked by 1 person

  25. 4 years ago I started gaining weight uncontrollaby, was ravenous 24/7, light headed, weak, short of breath. They tested for hypothyroidism which I did have. I still felt awful even after my TSH got back to normal. The useless, arrogant doctor kept blowing me off, screamed at me for refusing anti depressants. I finally tried them, they only made everything worse.

    My doctor had referred me to a therapist who told him I did NOT have primary depression, and that anyone who was experiencing what I was experiencing would be depressed too. The MD refused to listen to him. This MD was a 2nd year resident in family medicine. The therapist was a PhD (social work) with 30 years of experience.

    I saw so many doctors. What wasn’t from hypothyroidism was antihistamine side effects. No doctor figured this out. They were all rude and dismissive (both male and female). I complained to a gynecologist 16 years ago of excruciating periods, she told me “That’s what’s so wonderful about menopause you don’t have to worry about those things anymore”.

    I think blaming everything on mental illness is because so many doctors are lazy and just want easy money. I find it ironic that they shove pap smears and breast exams down our throats but act like no woman has ever had a real health problem.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your comment, Lauren. People living with more than one medical condition (“co-morbidities” in doctor-speak) are often labelled as anxious or depressed. But really, who wouldn’t be? I now believe this is situational depression based on multiple losses and grief – not clinical depression as psychiatrists might define it. See also: When Grief Morphs Into Depression. Re your last paragraph: I think it sounds just as unfair to broadly tar all docs with the same brush (e.g “lazy and just want easy money”) as it would be for docs to dismiss all women patients as anxious or depressed. And we know how that feels, right?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Carolyn, if it looks and quacks like a duck… Many PCPs today value only rapid diagnosis and treatment. I read that some are even rewarded by the insurance company for lack of treatment, not to mention Big Pharma’s influence, so dismissing a patient with a pervasive “anxiey disorder” label and a pill is becoming our drive-through medical reality. Sad but true.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. In the US, what Daryl raises is true far too often. It is systemic and not primarily the fault of doctors. HMOs and insurance companies, In their different ways and as a matter of policy, do all they can to minimize treatment within the realm of deniability. The biggest push is to minimize face-to-face time, which is labor intensive. PCPs really are under tremendous pressure to rush through appointments and followup, so instant diagnosis and pill pushing are encouraged in the name of Efficiency.

          For pain from a complex of conditions (and especially from a botched shoulder surgery) several HMO docs prescribed me opioids, as well as strong drugs that caused severe GI and other side effects, My resistance was yet another item of “noncompliance”. I had to campaign for 2 years for another shoulder surgery, which greatly reduced a major source of pain. The HMO provides very little and limited PT (immediately after severe injury or surgery) so I have to pay out of pocket for PT and body work for chronic conditions, though this work actually does reduce my pain and improve my function.

          I thought about that this year when the New York Times ran a series on overuse of opioids. Buried in one article was the fact that insurance companies and workers compensation rules readily will provide pain meds, but allow very limited access to the PT and counseling that might help people reduce their pain.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. Hi Kathleen – that is nuts! Here in Canada, I not only do not pay out of pocket for regular follow-up with a pain specialist at our Regional Pain Clinic (which offers a comprehensive range of standard pain management services including nerve blocks, surgery, medications) but I can also sign up for free pain self-management classes there in things like Health Recovery Yoga, Health Recovery Tai-Chi, Health Recovery Meditation, etc etc.


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  27. I am currently having trouble getting a referral to a cardiologist for a 2nd opinion as my doctor thinks I am “just anxious “.

    After weeks of mild chest pain, I asked my doctor to be referred for an ECG. That ECG & stress test showed ECG changes suggestive of an MI, but CT angiogram and ultrasound show no blockages. Neither the cardiologist who did the tests nor my PCP can explain the results but say I’m OK. I would like a referral to someone who can explain why my ECG from 5 years ago was abnormal (and I wasn’t told) and why there are even more changes now if I’m OK.

    Yes, I have arthritis and GERD – but they wouldn’t show as ECG changes – I think I have a right to be anxious. The pain in my left lower rib and shoulder blade doesn’t allay my anxiety either. (And yes, I am going to insist on a referral for a second opinion or change PCP)


    1. Katherine, you have a right to a second opinion based on your “ECG changes” to help solve the mystery of whether your symptoms are heart-related or not. Right now, you just don’t know one way or the other. Best of luck to you…


    2. The best decision I made was to change from a male doctor to a female. I recently had my first physical visit with her. I felt comfortable telling her I feared my anxiety diagnosis would hinder treatment in my lifetime. Sometimes it’s easier to be frank with a female. Anxiety doesn’t mean you don’t have a valid treatable condition, it just means sometimes they choose to assume it’s the underlying condition. Second opinion is okay, it’s your life. Doctors aren’t perfect. And you know your body the best.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good points about anxiety, Teresa. I have a female GP who is wonderful, and a male cardiologist and a pain specialist who are equally wonderful – I think it’s more about skill, respect and compatible personalities than about gender!


    3. Katherine, I hope you have a better relationship with your new PCP, and do persist. An abnormal ECG was the first sign of my own cardiac condition, and it too was followed by a clear angiogram, but it took many years before the right cardiologist read my echocardiagram (and reread previous ones) to diagnose apical hypertrophic cardiomyopathy. I had suggested it myself shortly after the clear angiogram, but nobody took it seriously at the time.

      “Anxiety” has been removed from my chart since then, and I changed to a younger and much more empathetic PCP, and she demonstrates a great deal of respect for me and my judgment. In any case, since those changes quite a few serious conditions have been recognized and treated appropriately. Most definitely worth the fight, and not just for me. After an abnormal ECG, my sister was recently diagnosed with AHCM as well, but my diagnosis smoothed her path, as now it is an official part of family history.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Good point, Kathleen, about ECGs being misread/misinterpreted. Some studies have found surprising discrepancies in doctors’ ability to correctly interpret these tests. For example:

        “Twelve per cent of patients studied had a high-risk EKG abnormality that was NOT detected by physicians. Rates of missed EKG findings from hospital to hospital ranged from 5.6% to 15.1%.”


        1. And, rather like Katherine, I had had a flagged ECG 5 years earlier (prior to surgery) that was referred to my PCP. He dismissed it as “over read” because I had a very active swim routine, which, as a former competitive swimmer, he determined I NEVER could do if the EKG/ECG was accurate. I was entirely happy to believe it and never gave it another thought until I found the result over 5 years later, well after the second ECG brought me straight to the ER and an angiogram.


    4. My doctor has told me that it’s “nerves” and I should see a psychiatrist. She’s said this twice. I told her both times that that doesn’t help me at all. Thankfully w/Medicare (already have a disability) I can make an appt w/a cardiac specialist on my own. I’m just dealing with a lot of stress & stuff. Since I’m fatigued and have trouble with sleep, it is difficult to handle more than one thing at a time.


      1. Sounds like you have lots going on all at the same time, any of which can cause distressing symptoms that may or may not be heart-related at all. Fatigue and sleep problems wreak havoc on day-to-day function, for example. You’re so right – it’s so hard to handle more than one thing at a time, as I wrote about here.


  28. Enjoyed this article. I am a 51 year old nurse who in my lifetime has asked my dr to rx anti-anxiety meds to be used as needed for short term use due to divorce and parenting two children 24/7.

    I knew I needed a little help and did not feel uncomfortable admitting it. Last year I experienced a rash followed by stiff neck (ortho said strain curve of neck reversed), cognitive impairment, and unilateral paresthesia of left side of face along with tachycardia, pulse 140 for over 4 hours. This was the day after I completed a 16 day cycle of prednisone, 60 x 3, 40 x 3, 20 x 10 (I experienced the facial paresthesia the day prior and initially on day 5 of prednisone)

    Never had I had tachycardia. Drove myself to ER 15 miles away. Of course after ekg (borderline ekg: sinus tachycardia, consider flutter, AV heart block) and MRI, they wanted to give me xanax.

    I declined the xanax. Told me sometimes people who are getting ready to have a nervous breakdown have these symptoms. Really? They’re telling this to a woman who openly made appt to see dr for stress in years prior. I didn’t need it and told them so.

    Seen by cardiologist, two beta blockers later my pulse was 50 and I’m falling asleep driving. Months later, the tachycardia stopped, the facial paresthesia continues. Neurologist says disseminated varicella, based on blood work, no further imaging indicated. She discharged me even with ongoing paresthesia, said it would last a while. Paresthesia progressing to other side.

    I decided to schedule an appt with ENT. He says no varicella, wants to send me to oral facial doctor who’s title is DMD. I think it was large amount of prednisone and the celebrex I was taking for osteoarthritis of shoulder in combination that screwed things up.

    When referred to specialist, I disclose I have a history of anti-anxiety med use. But of course they already know, it’s in my record.

    What if they excluded your history and took symptoms at face value? And I hate to say it but if I were a man, anxiety would not be a diagnosis. A man’s chart would not list anxiety. It would say usual life stressors. Woman who step up and ask for short term assistance are penalized .

    A woman’s chart should say: “Smart woman, looking after herself so she can take care of family”.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Hi Teresa – I just love that “smart woman” last line of yours! If only our health care providers viewed past treatments for mental health issues in as unbiased a fashion as for physical health issues!

      And you are 100% correct in your statement that if you were a man, anxiety would NOT likely be your diagnosis (e.g. the 2005 Cornell study mentioned in my post demonstrated this bias quite clearly, as researchers wrote: “Men’s identical symptoms were perceived as cardiac whether or not emotional stressors were present.”)

      A medical history is important when it helps to inform a current medical mystery – but NOT when it jeopardizes a physician’s ability to assess current symptoms without bias.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. In the end my facial sensations turned into pain. Saw the neurologist and she diagnosed me with trigeminal neuralgia and migraine. Trying a course of steroids, then maybe if need be preventive medications. She sat down and showed me the MRI pointing out things. I feel a sense of relief.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Thanks so much for the update, Teresa! Although neither trigeminal neuralgia nor migraine are a walk in the park, it must feel like a huge relief to have clear diagnoses at last. Best of luck to you….


  29. My 36 year old daughter presented to the ER with complaints of chest pain and numbness and tingling in her hands. The doctor dismissed her concern that there was something wrong with her heart telling her it was a “pinched nerve”. He prescribed prednisone and vicodin and discharged her.

    Ten days later my daughter died suddenly, the autopsy report showed that she had a 70% stenosis of the circumflex artery. My daughter had been complaining for years to any doctor she had ever had, and they all dismissed her concern. No one would listen, I am assuming that she was considered a hypochondriac with mental health issues as she had a diagnosis of bipolar disorder.

    Young women do get heart disease and a misdiagnosis can be fatal.


    1. Oh Dee. I am so, so sorry to read of your daughter’s story. What a terrible loss for you and your family. Tragically, a patient with a mental health history is doubly at risk when cardiac issues strike for just the reason you cite here – symptoms are too often dismissed or lumped in with existing diagnoses on the chart. Thank you for this very important reminder to all young women and their family members.


  30. I have a history of a fairly severe psychiatric illness and unfortunately those diagnoses pretty much follow me everywhere. All a doctor has to do is glance at my list of medications.

    I’ve been having some cardiac symptoms for a while including shortness of breath (which has been treated as asthma). My last x-ray and finally a CT scan showed a bilateral pleural effusion. I’m finally seeing a cardiologist (not from my regular medical group) tomorrow (May 4th). All the doctors I’ve seen so far have been treating my symptoms as due to anxiety, especially my psychiatrist (who I also see for therapy).

    Anxiety doesn’t cause pleural effusions, but even with an MD after their name, they can’t seem to figure that out!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. You are correct. A pleural effusion is a buildup of fluid between the layers of tissue that line the lungs and the chest cavity. Last time I checked, anxiety isn’t the cause of that condition – it’s the understandable result of not being able to breathe properly. Best of luck to you tomorrow…


  31. I was labelled as an “anxious female” and was delighted when I got the diagnosis. It sounded much better than “menopausal” , which was the label I was stuck with during years. I went through cervical cancer and the removal of most of my thyroid during menopause and all my symptoms were declared as such.

    So when a new doctor diagnosed me as “anxious female” I was actually happy, because I could do something about it (medication, change of lifestyle, exercise, yoga and meditation)…… except the feelings of having an egg beater in my chest, not being able to breathe while laying down and most of all that of having a hand grabbing me by the throat while squeezing really hard and another imaginary hand pressing down on my shoulder to the point of severe pain did not go away and during the last few years only got worse in frequency as well as level of discomfort.

    Living in an underdeveloped country, but coming from Germany as someone without a family, living alone – according to my doctor – only contributed to what he diagnosed as “severe anxiety”. The diagnosis of “rampant Systemic Lupus” ( I have never been in remission) only, according to him, contributed to the anxiety.

    On March 25th I took myself to the Emergency Department of a nearby hospital, because the squeezing of the hands around my neck and on my shoulder had become relentless to the point of almost fainting several times. I was having a heart attack, plus it was discovered that I had had a “silent” one in the very recent past…plus that I had had heart trouble for years.

    Taking five different medications ; among those Coumadin and Isosorbide (I don’t know what the English name is) I now feel better than I have in the last 12 months.
    Of course I am anxious, because of what is happening in a place where the word “cardiac rehabilitation ” is unknown and where no one is willing to explain the diagnosis of “Cardiopatia Isquémica” ( which I hope is translated correctly as : Ischemic Cardiomyopathy) .

    All I was told is to take my meds and not eat leafy green vegetables. I walk as exercise on my own against the wishes of anyone who knows me and against the advice of my doctor (and no, changing doctors would not help, because the next one would not know any better). So, while I am still anxious about a lot of things I would like to insist that I am not an “anxious female”.

    I apologize for such a long post, my first one to boot. I just recently found this website and reading all the contributions had provided me with a great deal of courage and hope.

    Thank you all!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello Droelma – glad you found us here at Heart Sisters. Both anxiety and menopause can be popular all-purpose misdiagnoses when doctors can’t explain our symptoms, as you’ve already learned. Also, I’m glad you’re feeling better now – best of luck to you in your ongoing recovery.


  32. I’ve already had one “anxious female” misdiagnosis and am trying to dodge round another one just now.

    My first was when I presented to the out of hours GP service having had difficulty breathing all night. I have a history of asthma, chest infections and a previous pneumonia and was worried in case I had pneumonia again, but more than anything I just wanted to be able to breathe properly. Turned out I was hyperventilating (because my chest was so sore). GP dismissed me as having a panic attack, tried to give me diazepam, which I refused to take, I managed to calm my breathing down a bit and thought I’d better pull myself together so went out shopping with my husband. I struggled through the day and was still suffering the next day so went to my normal GP. I had pneumonia. I complained to the out of hours docs but their response said that I’d “admitted” to previous panic attacks (I hadn’t, because I’ve never had one yet), that the diagnosis at the time was perfectly fine, and that the pneumonia must have developed the next day.

    Right now I’m in the middle of investigations for unexplained chest discomfort, shortness of breath on exertion and a host of other as yet unexplained symptoms. Thankfully so far it doesn’t look as though my symptoms are cardiac related, but I’m already feeling embarrassed, as if I’m making things up. The nurse yesterday said that I still looked worried when my exercise stress test was normal. I told her that yes I was, because I want to know what’s wrong! No amount of me telling her I really don’t want to have a heart condition seemed to convince her.

    I’m wondering whether the panic attack misdiagnosis is still on my records?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Alison, you bring up a disturbing point here: that natural inclination to feel disappointed when diagnostic results (e.g. your exercise stress test) are “normal”. This reaction is completely understandable when we need to find out out what is happening to us. No wonder we interpret such results as “good news/bad news”. (The good news: it’s not your heart; the bad news: it’s not your heart!) When such news is presented without an accurate alternative diagnosis to explain distressing symptoms, no wonder people can feel anxious. Best of luck to you in solving the mystery…

      PS Yes, I’m betting that “panic attack” is still on your medical record unless you specifically ask that the misdiagnosis is corrected to read pneumonia.

      Liked by 1 person

  33. I found this today because my disbelief over another dumb blow off Dx given today. I’ve always had sharp pains, flutters, or weird thumps in my chest growing up. It’s always been blown off as gas, indigestion, stress, inflamed cartilage, etc. I’ve been even looked at by family members as a hypochondriac until they actually had some issues themselves.

    I went to medical assisting school and started working at doctors offices to treat people with more compassion and care than I have been given. I am naturally high strung so working in a fast pace environment suited me. I was working fast one day and my heart went into a tachycardia so darn fast the nurse practitioner couldn’t count my pulse and looked at me amazed. I told her that these issues happen and you are the first to ever see it. She was concerned that I was blowing it off. That’s just what I was taught by negligence, really.

    We did an EKG, but it was gone that fast and didn’t show up. I do get pains when I get upset but I get more when I’m at rest. My last EKG a few years ago did show some slight changes. Nothing major, just some things to keep an eye on.

    TODAY THOUGH: I’ve had shooting pains on/off all day in “the wrong arm”, fluttery feelings in my chest, slight pressure mid chest and a head cold starting with ear pain. As a precaution, I finally listened to my mother and went to an urgent care associated with the local hospital. I didn’t want the ER for obvious reasons. This doctor looked at my vitals and history from all my visits to my OB/Gyn, ER visit or two, and told me

    1) that hypertension was one of my DX listed (never had high blood pressure once!),
    2) my head cold was being allergic to my eye make up (oh?).

    She listened to my heart and said it was anxiety because she didn’t hear anything wrong. She actually told me very pointedly that she could not give me pills. I think she thought I was a pill popper trying to use arm pain for pain meds.

    I was in comfy clothes instead of my professional clothing that I wear to my administrative position (been there 7 years). I don’t do drugs, I rarely drink. Yes, I smoke and even expressed my desire to quit by natural methods first. I believe in all things healthy and am very health conscious. I stopped being nice and told my son to get his stuff.

    I’m at home now. I’m still feeling bad. I haven’t cried in years. I did today. Thoroughly disgusted with the lack of care and how someone will look at you fast and make an inaccurate assumption based on gender, clothing, and a different personality than themselves. I always did an EKG on a patient that had any type of symptoms or worries to be on the safe side. Most free of charge to be cautious with someone’s health. I would rather be proactive with someone’s health and heal then to judge and say someone is anxious because a diagnosis is needed to complete the visit in 15 minutes and I already paid my copay. They didn’t even get that EKG. Negligence in my book. She told me I was just like her sister. Um ok? Does she like her sister? I don’t think so. This is not anxiety, it’s anger, disgust, and hurt.

    What if there is something wrong and I drop dead before my child. That’s why I was anxious in your office. I don’t want to blow off a what if I should get this checked out. Guess what was in my chart from the ER though from 20 years ago. I overdosed on my Xanax that an old quack doctor gave me to help me quit smoking before I knew better and matured. I messed up and I was young. So yes, both anxiety and Xanax played into me being dismissed today as an anxiety dx. Think I might be going to the ER if I still hurt in a bit.

    I feel better venting. Thanks!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “She was concerned that I was blowing it off. That’s just what I was taught by negligence, really.” I’ve never heard it expressed that way, and it’s spot on. I’m going to have to use the “I was taught by negligence” line the next time my docs wonder why I take everything they say with a grain of salt.


  34. My story is very similar to “Disgusted’s”. It took 18 years to be properly diagnosed with Crohns, 11 yrs for my MS diagnosis and 37 yrs for a genetic collagen disorder. Anxiety and depression diagnoses made it impossible for a doctor to take me seriously. With the collagen disorder I had developed POTS (postural orthostatic tachycardia) and SVT.

    Recently, it felt like I was having a heart attack – intense pressure, vomiting, fatigue beyond my normal and profuse sweating. My doctor was not in that day (on a Friday) and I delayed going to seek help. I went the following Monday where the doctor listened to my concerns, and reviewed my records – never once examining me or listening to my heart. I had had a stress test about 14 months ago and that was okay so obviously it couldn’t be my heart.

    Yes, I know I should have gone directly to the ER but am so tired of the anxiety diagnosis and it was my birthday. Just fed up with decades of being told its all in your head despite having real diagnoses.


  35. I had to live through 10 years of suffering before I found one doc who helped me. Then another 10 years to get an actual diagnosis (systemic lupus). It took another 9 years after that for a doc to take my symptoms seriously enough to treat my condition. And that was ONLY after I progressed to heart failure. Nice.

    The funny thing? I feel way better now than I did in my 20’s. Life was really miserable then. I guess it was physical conditioning to prepare me for the future. About 30 or so docs over the years failed to diagnose me. The whole lifetime ordeal I’ve been through is disgusting and inexcusable.

    Liked by 1 person

  36. It is often construed that a prescription for Xanax or Clonazepam means by definition, that you have an anxiety disorder.

    As a heart patient, I find it slows the reactivity of my heart and vascular spasm when stress occurs. The other mislabeling that I discovered was that when I had been interrogated about my history and said, yes, in my 20s, I smoked “when going out to bars with friends”, for 2-5 years, I found that in my chart it had translated to 25 years of smoking! That makes a BIG difference in a doctor’s perception of how you ended up with a heart condition!

    Due to my need for the anxio-cardiolytics, I may never lose the anxiety label, but I managed to get the smoker label out of the computer.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Mary, you had a double whammy of both anxiety and smoking on your medical files! As you know, those of us living with coronary microvascular disease can suffer debilitating angina that is as affected by emotional triggers as by physical exertion. That’s where anxiolytics come in for heart disease – not as a remedy for an anxiety disorder.


  37. As a young woman suffering from real anxiety issues, I felt personally hurt by the way that anxiety was so negatively conveyed in this article, as something to be embarrassed about and offended by. Way to support the stigmatization of those with mental disorders.


    1. Amelia, thanks for taking the time to share your comment. Please re-read this article – it’s about anxiety MISdiagnoses in women who present with life-threatening health issues (tragically, a common and potentially fatal medical reality for many women) and is certainly not intended as a reflection of “the stigmatization of those with mental disorders”. The only reason we would feel “embarrassed” and “offended by” an anxiety misdiagnosis is our tendency to feel guilty about making a fuss or angry about being dismissed so dangerously. For example, I felt the same after being misdiagnosed with acid reflux in mid-heart attack – this had nothing to do with stigmatizing those living with gastroesophageal issues.


    2. Not embarrassed or offended either, but glad that you raised this, Amelia.

      Mental disorders are stigmatized, not by Carolyn in this column, nor by those of us who have shared experiences here, but in society and, dangerously, by doctors. This column discussed how doctors often dismiss reports and symptoms of serious physical conditions with psychiatric diagnoses. Someone with an accurate diagnoses of Anxiety may very well have heart problems, kidney disease or a brain tumor as well, but many doctors will never see past that Big Letter A, especially if the patient is a woman.

      Take it from Jerome Groopman M.D. in his book: How Doctors Think; p. 39:

      “…had to avoid the negative feelings that physicians have for patients labeled as “psychiatric,” seeing such people as neurotic, cloying, deranged, and generally delusional, a burden because they do not tell the truth, their physical complaints not worth taking seriously because their symptoms originate not in the chest … but in their mind. A wealth of research shows that patients thought to have a psychological disorder get short shrift from internists and surgeons and gynecologists. As a result, their physical maladies are often never diagnosed or the diagnosis is delayed.”

      Certainly not feel-good stuff, but we need to know what we’re up against.

      Liked by 1 person

  38. Great article Carolyn. Several years ago I had the misfortune of contracting Lyme Disease which went in to my central nervous system. I had a myriad of symptoms including extreme voice loss. An older Ent specialist immediately diagnosed me as having ‘hysteria.’ I questioned him at length, especially about lab results. He stuck by his diagnosis and insisted that I either didn’t take my meds or the meds were placebo pills!

    My family doctor told me I was ‘just looking for something to be wrong.’ !!!!!!

    I became severely ill and required months of treatment including several weeks of home iv tx and now have some permanent nerve damage. Hysteria? !!!

    When I wrote a letter of complaint to the College of Physicians and Surgeons, I received an answer after a year. The conclusion was that I misinterpreted the subtle medical language and tone of what the doctor said! (I have a medical background to boot! )

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Just looking for something to be wrong.”!!!

      As though we actually WANT feeling lousy to be the center of our lives.

      I still get flabbergasted at the level from which some of these docs sit in sanctimonious judgment, their readiness to label a patient as hypochondriac. I think it’s even worse if you’re a woman who actually looks pretty good. A number of my HMO docs appeared surprised whenever something I reported turned out to be true, and even significant.

      For years I reported throbbing pain behind my right eye and growing pressure headaches, but my feet, hands and shoulder were even more immediately painful and disfunctional, so most of my energy went toward getting those resolved – already quite a fight with my HMO. Only this year did I begin to push to resolve the head pain, and I can easily imagine them saying: “Just looking for something to be wrong” although Anxious Female is what they wrote in my record.

      Another point about medical records: As I’ve reported, through a medical error, Anxiety topped my list of conditions and stuck like the tablets of stone. On the other hand, despite the fact that I repeatedly reported radical surgery for cancer in my 20’s, followed by heavy head and neck radiation, no doc thought to add that history to my Problem List. At least, not until 2 weeks before my brain surgery, when a neurosurgeon expressed surprise at that omission and added it to the list. My particular tumor is often caused by radiation exposure, and my history should have been a flag, but it seems that many found it easier to attribute my symptoms to Anxiety.

      I recommend “How Doctors Think” by Jerome Groopman M.D. No, we are not the problem, and, yes, we really do have to fight to be heard. Knowing what we’re up against may help us do that more effectively. And sharing these experiences helps bolster confidence, resolve, and our sense of our own worth.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I would like to report that Anxiety has been removed from my official Problem List, finally. Past records will not be changed, but it no longer tops my records. I’m still working for educational discussion of this experience, to reduce likelihood of others suffering from the same error and dismissal.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. WOW! That’s great news, Kathleen – thanks for the update, and for sharing your story with me in the first place. A victory for all of us “anxious females”! 😉


      2. I AM CONFRONTING THIS PRECISE ISSUE! I have been puzzled, disheartened, and now ALARMED by the way that I have been treated at one major medical clinic by a series of physicians and specialists since last February.

        I was concerned when the first physician, not my primary physician, wrote: “She says…but after evaluation no evidence indicated.” Then, although she referred me to two specialists, each one was patronizing, dismissive, and belittling toward me. I had not ever been treated this way at this clinic before. They totally dismissed my statements.

        The initial physician diagnosed “dry mouth,” although I had explained quite significant symptoms. Since then, my condition has radically deteriorated, although I have had two additional appointments with two other physicians. Each time, I am quickly dismissed, treated exactly as if I am “imagining” symptoms and exaggerating!

        This morning, I called to make an appointment with the periodontal clinic and I was provided an appointment in four weeks! I explained that I had a fever, chills, was experiencing significant pain, and that I could not possibly wait four more weeks. The scheduler actually said, “Sorry!” When I asked, again, if any other periodontist was available, she said, “Sorry!”

        I gave up, called the University Graduate Program in Periodontal Medicine and the scheduler was very concerned about me AND provided an appointment for the next day!
        I am stunned at the horrific treatment I have received, and I KNOW that some notation was made on my file, discrediting me.

        In the meantime, 7 months have passed, and the condition in my mouth is now extreme, gum tissue entirely missing from my entire lower jaw!

        IF the periodontist at the University diagnoses anything except “dry mouth,” I am next scheduling an appointment with a personal injury attorney and filing a medical malpractice lawsuit!

        I am increasingly horrified by the contemptuous attitudes toward women. Is such belittling increasing? OR, as I grow older, am I no longer a credible person?
        I am STUNNED.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. A frightening story, Anna. So glad you got such a timely appointment at the University – good luck with the follow-up treatment there. Meanwhile, ask the clinic to provide copies of your medical records.


        2. I hope the university clinicians provide the help you need, Anna. And if they don’t, please go somewhere else.

          Sometimes we really are fighting for our lives and anyone would become upset, agitated and, yes, anxious when reports of serious health issues are persistently discounted.
          You really do have to get full copies of your medical records and review them carefully.

          “Dry mouth” was an understated description of one of my symptoms too. Since this ‘Anxious Female’ was first posted in 2012, I received an official diagnosis of a condition that effectively prevented me from getting real sleep for years, as well as dental damage. It was a diagnosis I had proposed some years before. Dismissed, of course. “That would be rare.”

          I already have to juggle several serious medical conditions, yet was forced to conduct what amounted to a military campaign to get appropriate treatment for a condition that was slowly killing me.

          Now, with treatment, I am feeling and doing much better, but all those years in which docs dismissed my reports needlessly prolonged my chronic sleep deprivation. And that compounds my risk for diabetes, still more cardiac damage, Alzheimers and much more.

          As an example of how cancer survivors are ill-served, I raised this fight and outcome with the head of radiation oncology at my HMO. He told me that he understood my frustration. “Sometimes it’s better just to find another doctor.”

          I replied that the issue was their persistent failure to provide appropriate care, not my emotional state. It is a good idea to move on from a doc who is a bad fit, but in far too many circumstances that is easier said than done. Still have to take this to another level…

          But don’t give up, Anna. There is a persistent bias against women in medicine, even more dangerous because it is usually unconscious. Your story is important, so I hope you find more places to tell it.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. PS Throughout all that, people told me I looked good. And now, ever since I actually get some sleep, these same people look at me quizzically as they tell me how great I look. Did I get my hair cut? I think but DON’T say, “No, it’s just that right now I don’t have to fight so hard to stay alive.”

            Liked by 1 person

          2. Such important points, Kathleen. “Just find another doctor” seems almost glib advice – as you correctly say, far easier said than done particularly for those living in small towns/rural areas. And that persistent bias against women in medicine is alive and well, as Mayo Clinic’s Dr. Mary O’Connor explained in this post.


        3. I had the misfortune of being labeled an alcoholic and having anxiety by an ED Doc even after the visit showed I had a small bowel obstruction, for which I was admitted and treated. Had the NG tube placed and everything. I caught the error myself while taking my medical records to a PCP which was out of network. The hospitalist who saw me continued the diagnosis of alcoholic and suffering from anxiety and never mentioned the small bowel obstruction.

          Why do male doctors feel such a strong need to mislabel female patients, even when CT scans, etc show an actual, real medical problem? I am still battling the various HIM departments within the medical system to amend my medical record and state that I am not an alcoholic and never have been. It’s disheartening. Thank you everyone for your posts!

          Liked by 1 person

    2. Thanks for this, Jan!

      In a way, your family doctor was correct, but not in the way it sounded. Patients ARE looking to solve the mystery of “what is wrong with me?” whenever we present to a physician with distressing symptoms. But simply asking that question should not be mistakenly interpreted as anxiety (or hysteria!)

      ONE YEAR to receive an answer from the College?!? Unacceptable.


  39. When I was 25 I went to a doctor to report pounding and skipped beats (pounding you could see through my shirt!) The doctor sat me down and told me I missed my mother!

    Months earlier my new husband and I had moved across country. He also told me I should go home and have a baby so I wouldn’t be lonely! He never put a stethoscope to my chest even though I told him I was diagnosed with an atrial septal defect at the age of 5.

    Fortunately, I did not follow his advice. Months later I was told by my new doctor that if I had become pregnant, both I and a baby would have died. I’m sure my chart in that first doctor’s office said, “anxious female”.

    I’m now committed to taking charge of my health and passing that on to women because of that incident. I’ve also learned that the best doctors appreciate and respect women who do take charge of their heath. It creates a team relationship with the mutual goal of quality care.

    Thanks for your posts.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. “Go have a baby!” is odd medical advice to address missing one’s mother. I sure hope med students are learning radically improved bedside manner skills today! Thanks for sharing your story here, Rudy.


  40. Hysterical Woman #1: I drove myself (not too bright I admit, but like most women this couldn’t be ENOUGH of an emergency for 911) to the ER during my first atrial fibrillation “attack”. Not knowing what was happening, I was terrified I was going to pass out while driving; I WAS hysterically crying when I arrived.

    The ER doc said he was sending me home with a Rx for Xanax. I looked him in the eye and said “Doctor, I absolutely was hysterical when I arrived. But I assure you I have a depressive disorder, not an anxiety disorder.” He told me to hold on to the Rx, walked away. Before they could unhook me I had a major episode which the nurse caught on tape.

    He apologized.

    Hysterical Woman #2: I developed major fibromyalgia symptoms in the late 1990’s when fibro was not recognized by the medical establishment and actually was considered an “Hysterical Middle Aged Woman’s Syndrome”. As they now know, it’s a central nervous system disorder so every system of the body can be impacted.

    Ten of thousands of dollars worth of tests came back negative proving the medical establishment’s Dx. I lost track of the number of doctors (rheumatologists, neurologists, internists, gastroenterologists etc, etc.) who handed me the cards of psychiatrists.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. This is such a perfect illustration, Judith: it’s quite understandable that a woman presenting in the E.R. with terrifying cardiac symptoms would OF COURSE be crying and agitated. Bingo! – instant “anxious female” diagnosis. P.S. Next time, don’t drive yourself to the E.R!


    2. Judith….I had an a-fib attack while driving on a six lane highway with no shoulder, so I feel your pain. I kept feeling myself starting to pass out and kept pinching myself HARD to stay conscious. By the time I got to a place where I could pull over, I contemplated calling 911, but didn’t want to be embarrassed (can you believe it?) and was afraid to leave my car in a random parking lot. So I managed to get to the hospital myself. It was three days before I was getting my ICD implanted and I was going to the hospital anyway to get a routine pulmonary function test. My own cardiac electrophysiologist (male) said I was just nervous about getting my ICD. I said, “Doc, you’re dead wrong on that one, because I have the opposite problem. I’m told I’m not anxious ENOUGH.”

      And it’s true, because all these years of being sick and getting no help, and now that I’m middle aged they’re going to get all worried about heart failure? Pul-EEZE…..WHATever. It was my cardiologist (female) who decided to admit me. And ok, I did try to escape.

      Never leave a woman who won’t sit still with access to her shoes and her car keys. My husband caught me.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. Pam, maybe we should start a women’s movement – Frantic Females Feeling “FINE”. or FINE Females Feeling Frantic (Can’t think of anymore “F” words that Carolyn won’t bleep out on this respected blog).

        I refuse to believe that we women are “f_ _ _ed up”. The “out of touch with reality” genetic code is on one of the XX chromosomes but neither chromosome will fess up.

        Glad you survived Mr Toad’s Wild Ride!


        1. I think we should have t-shirts made that say, “Would you label your mother as an anxious female?” That might get some attention. Or maybe some of them would label their mother as an anxious female.

          To top it all off, my lupus had caused me severe digestive system problems for years. I suffered a long time before a doc took me seriously. Now, my husband had a rare tumor removed in 2007, and spent most of that year in and out of hospitals, the result of which was he picked up c.difficile as a parting gift. (Google that….it’s disgusting.) Before we knew he had c.diff I took him to a local ER. They didn’t know what he had yet, but they admitted him anyway. Now, I don’t begrudge the guy getting help without much effort, but COME ON….how many years did I have to suffer and no one paid attention?

          Then the icing on the cake was that they hadn’t gotten the cultures back yet, but started treating him for c.diff anyway, and he got better. A month later I got the c.diff…..probably from cleaning all the poopy laundry and toilets in the house….so after having a horrific incident all over my car reminiscent of the Golgothan S*** Demon from the movie “Dogma”, I cleaned myself up as best I could, took one of my husband’s flagyl (which is the first thing they try when you get this nasty thing) so I could get out the door without leaving a brown trail wherever I went and drove to the local ER.

          I told them my story, and begged for my own prescription of flagyl. They said, “Oh, we can’t give you that until the tests come back.” Are you freakin’ kidding me? I’m going to use every bathroom in this hospital and share my c.diff with ALL OF YOU. You want to write me a script for flagyl or call the hazmat team to sterilize everything in this joint?

          I walked out of there with my flagyl.

          Liked by 1 person

          1. What? WHAAAAT?!?!? Your hubby gets meds for c.diff without getting the labs back yet, but one short month later, YOU (clearly at high risk because of all that poopy laundry) have to WAIT for your labs before being treated?!?! I have to go have a wee lie-down after that story, Pam… PS Oh yeah, I’m also guessing that hubby didn’t have to make even a tiny fuss in the ER before getting his flagyl….


          2. Pam, couldn’t find a better illustration that that! Which inspires me to share a much much lesser anecdote:

            As the kick-off story of this post, I eventually succeeded in getting ‘Anxiety’ removed from my list of ongoing conditions and my medical care has greatly improved. In 2 years, one serious condition after another has been officially diagnosed, treated – though I had correctly diagnosed myself years earlier and been dismissed.

            My darling husband actually does suffer from anxiety – panic attacks and the whole bit, but nowhere is that in his medical record. He asked his doctor not to enter it until they have investigated every single thread of physical cause and he obliged. They are slowly working down the threads.

            Liked by 1 person

            1. Dear Kathleen, I hope you will be able to read my reply, though so much time went away…

              I am so struck with your story, it leaves me without words basically. I am under the threat to have such “diagnosis” in my records too. As I assume, I will not have it if I stop asking questions to my doctors and stay alone with my symptoms until the next heart attack.

              But I wanted to ask you: how did you manage to remove this “anxiety” nonsense from your medical history? Did you go to your physician and just ask?

              Anyway, thank you for the sharing your story — at least, it is obvious now that I am not the only woman in the world dealing with this medical nightmare.

              Have a wonderful day,
              With all the best,


    3. Thank you for the very much needed laugh. I managed this comeback once, but not nearly with such eloquence and, humor – if only black humor. I have a cartoon image to go along with your statement.

      “Doctor, I absolutely was hysterical when I arrived. But I assure you I have a depressive disorder, not an anxiety disorder.”


  41. As one of the examples in this post, aside from speaking with individual doctors who had labelled me as an Anxious Female, I began a campaign to remove Anxiety from my list of conditions.

    One might think that would be simple, especially since the Anxiety diagnosis of 2005 was demonstrably a medical error and one’s primary care physician has the authority to alter the list. Perhaps not the past, but at least going forward.

    When, 2 months after I specifically requested its removal, he still hadn’t done so, I switched to another doctor: a young woman whom a friend had recommended for her brilliance and compassion.

    When I met with my previous doctor to explain why I was leaving his practice, he seemed genuinely shocked, and, to me, that confirmed that he really didn’t see the label as dangerous to my health.

    I want to advance discussion and awareness of these labels and their implications within my HMO and throughout the broader community, and myheartsisters.org plays a valuable role.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hello again Kathleen – your story is a good example of how easily a mislabel like anxiety (one that has such significant potential to negatively affect future diagnoses) can stay stuck to one’s medical chart DESPITE a specific request to correct those records. Unbelievable. Thanks for letting me use your story to illustrate this topic.


      1. That is worth remembering whenever we hear pundits lauding universal electronic records as some sort of health care panacea. Useful records will be more easily accessed and shared, true, but also labels and misinformation. Garbage in; garbage out.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. I suspect that the problem is less about whether our records are electronic or on a piece of paper in a file folder. Garbage is garbage however it’s created . .


  42. I once called 911 for an ambulance reporting I thought I might be having a heart attack. When the 911 operator asked me if I wasn’t sure it was “just an anxiety attack”, I said, “I’ve already had a massive heart attack you fool. Send a g######m ambulance!”

    To me, that’s about as patronizing as it gets.


    Liked by 1 person

    1. Amazing. 911 operators can apparently diagnose anxiety attacks even over the phone. Lovely hearing from you again, Beamie!


        1. Agreed! But as the Cornell study (and others) suggest, females are significantly more likely to be mislabelled compared to their male counterparts. Women also have twice the rate of diagnosed anxiety disorders than males do.


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