31 Stories From Women Whose Doctors Did Not Take Their Pain Seriously
"My pain of 'unknown origin' became emergency surgery and a 2.5-inch-diameter tumor in my freaking liver."
A while ago, we asked members of the BuzzFeed Community if they had, as a woman, ever felt as if their pain had not been taken seriously by doctors or medical professionals. We published 29 of these stories at the time. But there were so many responses, that here are 31 more:
1. A concussion that led to two blood clots:
It started with a head injury when I was 22 or 23. I had a CT for a concussion, and while it was minimal, they saw a tumor about the size of half a pinkie nail. The doctor told me it was no big deal and that "women had these tumors all the time." He never sent records to anyone and I never really thought of it again. Flash-forward 10 years and I'm being wheeled into surgery because of a tennis ball–sized tumor. All went well but to add insult to injury I woke up multiple times after surgery and told the overnight neuro MD that I had a blood clot. He laughed it off. I let him know I am an ICU RN and I have a history with a clotting disorder. He kept telling me I was wrong and I'd feel better with more medication and rest. I demanded dopplers.
I had two clots in my right leg. One that my platelets attacked and it ended up completely occluding my vessel from the groin to my knee. They had to immediately send me back to surgery to have it removed. I almost lost my leg and also had blood clots in my lungs. I almost died. I made that doctor come into my room and apologize. I also made the initial ER MD have a sit down with me to remind him tumors grow; don't tell a young woman it's not something worth following up on.
2. When what was diagnosed as anxiety was actually a burst gallbladder:
When I was 19, I kept waking up in the middle of the night because I couldn't breathe. I felt like I had a elephant on my chest. I went to the ER and was told I was having a panic attack, given a shot to relax me, and sent home. After about the ninth trip in six months, the doctor on duty at the ER refused to treat me and said I needed to be seen by my primary care physician who could then refer me to a therapist. I went to my PCP and he started pushing around on my stomach thinking it could be appendicitis. But then he touched where my gallbladder was and I immediately vomited. He sent me by ambulance back to the ER to have a ultrasound, which resulted in being admitted and scheduled for emergency surgery. My gallbladder had burst, it had infected my pancreas and intestines, and I ended up in the hospital for two weeks.
3. Endometriosis pain not taken seriously:
I went to the ER for endometriosis pain. I had my feet up in the stirrups and the doctor walked in and asked why I was there. Several years and three surgeries later (one being a total hysterectomy), that sticks with me.
4. A "sprained ankle" that was not sprained and in fact required three surgeries to fix:
I was in a car accident when I was 17 and I knew I had broken my ankle or damaged it in some way. I went to the ER and they told me that I was in shock and I must have sprained my ankle prior to the car accident. After three days of not being able to apply any pressure on it, I went to a different ER and they informed me that I just about separated my foot from my leg and needed three surgeries to correct it.
5. What one doctor wrote off as an eating disorder was actually cancer:
When I was in high school, I got really sick and thought I had a stomach bug, but it would go away and come back. After months of it coming back and not going away, major weight loss, dehydration, and being extremely underweight, I went to my doctor.
She wrote me off as anorexic, even though I was NOT doing it on purpose and wasn't starving myself on purpose. I ended up being so weak, malnourished, and dehydrated that I collapsed towards the middle of my senior year of high school and was admitted to the hospital with tests ran. My blood cell count was way off.
This went on for a few years, and I finally went to a new doctor because that doctor refused to see if it was anything else. The new doctor found enlarged lymph nodes and we tried antibiotics; they only grew larger, so he sent me to a surgeon for scans. The surgeon removed the lymph node for biopsy, and I was diagnosed with very aggressive stage 3 papillary carcinoma. I am lucky to be alive. I had cancer for years that could have been treated easily if found at the start, but I almost died because a doctor just wrote it off as an eating disorder.
6. A minor surgery turned into an unavoidable leg amputation because of a missed diagnosis:
I had minor surgery last December and spent 16 days in the hospital because they gave me an antibiotic that no one knew I was allergic to. Eighteen hours after being released, I had to be rushed back in an ambulance in the middle of the night because my lungs had filled with fluid and I couldn’t breathe. I was in for 24 hours and they sent me home saying that I seemed fine.
Along comes February and I want to see my doctor because I was constantly short of breath and my legs had started swelling. He said it was asthma and gave me an inhaler. About my legs, he said it was probably my blood pressure meds doing that, so he changed them, too.
The inhaler didn’t work. Changing blood pressure meds didn’t work. April rolls up on us and I’m sicker, weaker, having more breathing problems. My doctor puts me on a new antibiotic and said it should help. On April 17, I go to the hospital to have a test that my doctor said I should take for my asthma. April 18, my left leg is amputated because during the December hospital stay I picked up a “hospital-acquired infection” in a small wound on my foot. It had ravaged my body, my kidneys had shut down, my lungs were failing, my heart was weak. I was septic and rushed into emergency surgery to remove my leg to stop the infection from getting worse.
7. A seemingly simple diagnosis of anemia was dismissed for years:
From ages 12 through 16 I had severe migraines, constant fatigue, nausea, and passed out a lot. There were days it was so bad that I couldn't even sit up in bed without basically falling over. I missed most of my eighth-grade graduation because I passed out and I had to quit gymnastics, a sport I loved.
I had one doctor who thought I was faking it to get out of school and another who said it was puberty/my period and that it would pass. But at 16, when I told my new doctor my symptoms, she gave me a look and ordered a blood test. It turns out that I'm severely anemic and my body doesn't hold on to/absorb iron like it should. I could have kept going in gymnastics had a doctor taken me seriously.
8. Knee pain that was actually a bone infection:
When I was 12 I had a sudden onset of pain in my knee, to the point where I couldn’t walk on it. The doctor I saw was convinced I was faking it, and opted to not take any X-rays but offered to “drain the fluid,” causing the swelling with a giant needle, or I could go home with Motrin until it got better. Of course 12-year-old me chose the Motrin route and went home. After five years of it flaring up and getting bad every few months, a different doctor took X-rays and discovered I had a raging bone infection that had chewed through most of my femur. I needed surgery to clean out the infection because the first doctor wouldn’t even look. I have a sizable scar.
9. A cold that was actually pneumonia:
I suddenly became really sick, I had a low-grade fever, and my entire body hurt. I went into urgent care, was barely seen, and was told I had a cold. A few days later, my temperature had gone up drastically and I was throwing up. I went back to urgent care and ended up having fluids because I was so dehydrated. I saw a different doctor that time, and she concluded that I actually had had the flu and subsequently developed pneumonia. Because of spending a week out with the flu, another two weeks out with pneumonia, and another week out having to let my lungs recover, I spent a month out of school. If I had been taken seriously the first time, I wouldn’t have been sick nearly so long and so horribly.
10. A misdiagnosed UTI that was actually a ruptured ovary:
I had a lot of abdominal bloating and pain, but the ER doctor I saw said it was a UTI. He gave me an incredibly strong antibiotic and I started vomiting. I was rushed back to the hospital where a nurse practitioner took my bloating seriously and ordered X-rays and CT scans immediately. We discovered I had PCOS and a cyst had grown over an ovary and RIPPED IT IN HALF. I was bleeding internally. The male doctor didn’t take my pain/bloating seriously and said I must just have anxiety. He almost killed me.
11. A seizure that was said to be anxiety was actually epilepsy:
In July 2017 I had a seizure at work and I was immediately rushed to the hospital. Once the ER doctor found out I had been diagnosed with anxiety a few years prior, he said that my seizure was “due to stress” and “a one-time thing.” The doctors assured me that everything was fine and that I could go home. Seven months later I had another seizure during class. My mom immediately took me to a different hospital because she didn’t think the doctors at the previous hospital would believe me. I was diagnosed with epilepsy the minute I got there and I was put on medication. Turns out I have a deformity in my hippocampus that causes seizures. I knew after my first “diagnosis,” something wasn’t right. Always double-check if you think something is wrong! I’m 10 months seizure free-now and I couldn’t be happier!
12. A surgery for kidney stones gone wrong:
When I was 19, I had surgery for kidney stones and was released to go home the next day. For the next two weeks, I had excruciating pain in my lower back on the right side. I kept calling my urologist to tell them about the pain, and they kept insisting it was normal post-op pain. It was so bad I stayed high on pain pills constantly. It's a miracle I didn't become permanently addicted. Finally I went back to the hospital for a CT and turns out my urologist had TORN MY FUCKING URETER DURING SURGERY. I WAS LEAKING URINE OUT INTO MY BODY.
13. A missed diagnosis that led to arthritis in the knee:
When I was 19, I fell and my knee hit the asphalt on the street, causing a shock of pain. I walked it off, but less than three weeks later, I fell again and injured the same knee because I missed stepping down a curb and hit my knee on the asphalt once more. I eventually went to an ER doctor, who diagnosed me with knee contusions. The pain didn’t go away for the next six years. Every time I went to a doctor, they just brushed it off as knee pain related to weight gain, and told me to work out and lose weight. On my fourth doctor, I had a nurse accuse me of being a narcotic seeker in the waiting room. I lost it and started yelling at the nurse that I didn’t want any drugs, I just wanted my knee FIXED (mixed in with a good amount of cursing at the nurse in front of children in the waiting room). The nurse was basically quiet, and the doctor examined me and finally referred me to a specialist who immediately diagnosed me with a tear in my meniscus. When I had the surgery, he ended up finding out that I had tore my meniscus in two places, and due to the fact that I had been walking on a fucked-up knee for six years, I had developed arthritis in that knee at 25 years old.
To this day I can walk with almost no pain, but if the weather changes, and at certain times of the year, it hurts, and that’ll always be my reality due to arthritis in my knee. That’s pretty messed up, don’t you think?
14. A missed MRSA diagnosis that resulted in multiple surgeries that could have been avoided:
When my daughter was only about 5 she caught a skin infection from a martial arts mat. As these bumps spread, she was in more and more pain as they grew hard and tender under her skin. We were consistently told by doctors that the bumps were bug bites, with one doctor even implying we had bedbugs. We were given multiple prescriptions for itch creams and antihistamines. About a week after a visit to her fifth doctor, these bumps started bursting open with huge amounts of pus and the smell of rotting flesh, so I brought her to the ER. Turns out she had MRSA and the infection had grown so deep that she needed multiple surgeries to remove pieces of flesh that had become infected. All of this because nobody took me or my daughter seriously when we said she was in pain and her spots were getting worse.
15. A missed case of appendicitis:
One night when I was 16 I started having really bad abdominal pain, to the point where I could barely stand or even uncurl myself from the fetal position. Finally my mom took me to the emergency room. The nurse told me it was probably PMS, gave me an aspirin, and told me to come back if it didn't subside in 24 hours. So I went home and stewed in excruciating pain until the next night. By the time I got back to the emergency room I genuinely thought I might pass out from the pain. Turns out I had appendicitis so severely that they had to rush me into emergency surgery. My appendix almost ruptured because the nurse didn't take me seriously.
16. An eye roll for someone who was actually experiencing kidney stones:
When I was 15 I was experiencing the most excruciating pain in my back that I ever have experienced before. One day it was so bad that I couldn’t walk and had to army-crawl to the bathroom to make it to the toilet throw up because the pain was so bad. My mom called an ambulance because she thought my appendix had burst. While on the way to the hospital my pain had become more intense and was a level 10. When the male nurse practitioner asked me to rate my pain at the hospital I told him it was a 10. He rolled his eyes and suggested to my mom that I was acting out for attention. They finally gave in and did a CT scan and the nicest doctor I have ever met finally came and talked to my mom and me. He explained that I had unusually large kidney stones and they were getting lodged.
17. Pain not taken seriously that was actually an ovarian cyst, tumor, and polyp:
No one believed my abdominal pain until I went to see my nurse practitioner friend. She ordered an ultrasound and they found a cyst on my left ovary. While they were doing surgery to remove it they found another tumor on the same ovary and an endometrial polyp in my uterus.
18. A misdiagnosis of appendicitis that was actually pancreatitis:
I started experiencing the most excruciating pain in my upper abdomen. The first few times it’d only last about five minutes. I knew that by the time I would get to the hospital I would no longer be in pain so I didn’t go. After experiencing the pain for longer than “normal,” I made an appointment with a doctor’s office. They asked questions, ran blood and urine tests, and told me they would call me with results. I got the call that my “tests were good” and they didn’t find anything. I knew there had to be something wrong, though. About a week later I was woken up by the pain. After experiencing the pain for going on 30 minutes I called an ambulance. By the time they finally got there (about 20 minutes later) the pain started to diminish. They assumed that because I could walk by then that I was faking.
Once there I was diagnosed with appendicitis and would have emergency surgery. A month and a hematoma later, my boyfriend and I were on our way to celebrate our three-year anniversary when the pain returned. I asked him to take me to a different hospital where they only did a blood and urine test (like the first doctor) and was finally correctly diagnosed with pancreatitis caused from a gallbladder stone. I had these “attacks” eight times before they finally were able to take me seriously enough to actually fix me. Now I have my gallbladder removed and have had no pain since October.
19. A serious pain after surgery being brushed off:
My mom had laparoscopic bariatric surgery eight years ago. When she woke up in recovery she was in a tremendous amount of pain. The nurses rolled their eyes at her and ignored her. My mom has had other surgeries and doesn't complain much, but she could tell something was wrong. It wasn't until she'd gotten to a unit that the resident checked and realized that during the surgery they had cut her colon. They rushed her back to surgery, and instead of having two small incisions on her abdomen it turned into her entire abdomen being cut open.
20. Heavy bleeding referred to as a "bit of a period":
I was bleeding heavily six days after having my daughter, soaking through pads in moments and passing large clots. I went to my local hospital and explained to the doctor that I was bleeding uncontrollably and I was scared. I also told him I'd had a postpartum hemorrhage six days previously. The doctor didn't examine me in any way at all and explained in a completely patronizing tone that I was "having a bit of a period." I went home certain that he was wrong, and half an hour later I was almost bleeding to death in the back of an ambulance.
21. A fat bias and refusal to listen led to pain and the loss of toenails that could've been easily avoided:
Whenever I go to the doctors for ANYTHING they blame it on me being overweight. I actually had a doctor say to me, "You're too fat. Fat fat fat." I went to the doctor about something in my toes and about four doctors insisted it was because there's too much weight on them. I had to self-diagnose using the NHS website and came to the conclusion I had severe ingrown toenails on both feet due to genetics and the way they were shaped. They finally listened, but I still lost both big toenails. I know this is nowhere near as serious as some, but I've been in more agony than I've ever experienced — and I didn't have to be.
22. A missed diagnosis of terminal cancer because of a doctor's dismissal of symptoms:
My mom had early stage breast cancer, and after surgery and radiation she was put on medication to force her into early menopause. A couple years later, she was spotting even though she didn't get a period anymore. She went to her gynecologist and without even examining her the nurse said it was probably nothing and sent her on her way.
Fast-forward another couple years and my mom was basically ignoring a swelling stomach and pain because her doctor said to, saying that she was just gaining weight despite the fact that she was a dietician and was very aware of what she ate. Finally, she was in so much pain somebody agreed to do exploratory surgery while relieving the bloating. Whoops, turned out she had stage 3C peritoneal cancer that could likely have been ovarian cancer but was so far along we have no way of knowing. After three years of chemotherapy, she passed away. Thanks, original nurse, for saying that bad spotting after menopause was completely normal and not to worry despite it most likely being an early sign of fucking terminal cancer.
23. What was thought to be pain of "an unknown origin" was actually an appendix about to burst and a tumor on her liver:
One day after work on the night shift at the hospital, I went back to the hospital to the ER with 50/10 abdominal pain. I spent over five hours writhing in agony on the floor of the triage area begging for someone to give some pain meds. When they finally took me to a room, they did a cursory exam and an ultrasound of my liver/gallbladder. Conclusion: pain of unknown origin. That's what they said. At the time I didn't care because I was so exhausted and had IV meds on board so I could sleep somewhat comfortably.
The next morning the same pain came back with a vengeance. I went back to the ER, only had to writhe on the floor for a little over four hours this time before they took me back for a CT with contrast. ER doc comes back in my room and says, "Thank god you brought yourself back in! You have an appendix that's about to burst! I've got the OR getting ready for you right now! Oh, and you have a small spot on your liver."
So my pain of "unknown origin" became emergency surgery and a 2.5-inch-diameter tumor in my freaking liver (which will eventually have to be resected).
24. What was thought to be pain from "being sexually active too young" was actually a UTI that had spread to her kidneys:
My best friend growing up had been experiencing back pain and some other symptoms. Her doctor did a short examination then told her that it was all in her head because she was "sexually active too young" and sent her home. Some time later, she ended up fainting at home and was rushed to the hospital with a 104-degree fever. Turns out she had a severe urinary tract infection that had spread to her kidneys. She nearly had to get a kidney transplant because her doctor dismissed her.
There's a happy ending, though: She just finished medical school and is hoping that no other girl has to go through what she did.
25. A woman in labor was told that she was being dramatic when she was actually crowning:
When my mom was giving birth to my brother, she walked into the hospital and the told the doctors she was giving birth. They waved her off and went back to doing their normal routine, insisting that she still had time. When they finally did check on her — I'm not kidding — the first thing the doctor said was, "Oh wow! You're crowning."
Though it was too late for epidural at this point, they decided to try it anyway. The doctors missed three times. They tore a hole in her spinal column and she started leaking brain fluid. Her brain ended up sinking in her cranium, which is extremely painful. Ever since hearing this massacre of a story I've been way more grateful for my mom and have admired her strength. Somehow my brother still turned out fine and healthy.
26. A tumor the size of a cantaloupe was brushed off as "period cramps":
My mom spent two years with severe abdominal pain. She was told by more than one doctor that there was nothing wrong with her and that it was "all in her head." There were comments about her being a woman and that it must be menstrual cramps. She was even sent to the Mayo Clinic, whose doctors, unbelievably, did scans of her head because her primary had suggested she was having either psychological problems, or that some sort of abnormality in her brain was causing her to feel phantom pain.
Naturally, they found nothing wrong in her head and sent her back to our hometown. Finally, she went to the urgent care, where a new doctor reacted to her claim of abdominal pain by feeling her abdomen (*gasp* Who would've thought of that?!). He told her she needed immediate surgery. She asked for a second opinion and that doctor concurred.
Emergency surgery the next day revealed a tumor the size of a cantaloupe, which resulted in her having to pursue a complete hysterectomy with some of her intestines removed because the tumor had caused the tissue to die! They said, literally, one or two more days and we would've lost her! Too much to even comprehend.
27. A brushed-off burst appendix that ended up requiring six surgeries:
At the age for 14, my sister had her appendix rupture. She woke up in blood, vomit, and her own feces, in the worst pain she has ever felt still to this day. She was rushed to the nearest ER, where the doctor said she just started her period and was having cramps. A few days later the same thing happened, but worse. We called an ambulance and they declared her technically dead on the ride but did everything to resuscitate her, and they were successful. When we got to the hospital they told us her appendix had ruptured a few days ago and if we hadn't gotten her to the hospital that night we would have lost her completely.
She ended up being in the hospital for six months. It required six surgeries to get all the infection out. She was told that due to the infection she may never have children; now she has two beautiful daughters.
Nine years later we are still in a lawsuit with the first doctor. But my sister is alive. Thank you to the doctors who took us seriously.
28. A 16-year-old was told she was bulimic when in fact she had severe duodenitis:
When I was 16 I suffered with SEVERE duodenitis, which caused pretty much nonstop vomiting. I couldn't keep any food down, I lost a ton of weight, and I was extremely dehydrated. Since I was 16, my doctor told my mother that I should see a psychologist because they assumed I was bulimic and I was "doing it to myself." It took another few months of pain until a decent doctor told me the true diagnosis.
29. A missed diagnosis of mono, which led to an enlarged spleen pressing against lungs:
When I was 16, I had extreme trouble breathing. I was hesitant to go to the doctor, but eventually my parents convinced me. When we got there, my pediatrician listened for two seconds and said it was allergies, so my dad took me to ready care. They gave me a nebulizer and sent me to the hospital for a chest scan. Turns out I had pneumonia. The same thing happened again, but my pediatrician said she wouldn't see me, so I went back to ready care and they told me I had bronchitis. A few weeks later, I couldn't breathe again. So I tried going back to my pediatrician, who again wouldn't see me. Turns out I had mono and my spleen was so huge it was pressing against my lungs. Fight for the care you deserve!
30. Severe pain while using the bathroom was dismissed as hemorrhoids when it was actually cancer:
Three years ago my mom began to experience intense pain every time she would use the bathroom and/or sit down. We went to three different doctors who all told her it was hemorrhoids. It wasn't until my aunt (who works as a receptionist at a hospital) got her an appointment with the doctor she works for when we found out she actually had CANCER. These doctors could have killed my mom because they didn't listen to her and thought since they were doctors that they knew better and were right. Thankfully she is doing a lot better and is in remission, though she has to go to the doctor every so often to make sure it hasn't returned.
31. And yet another missed diagnosis of appendicitis:
My mom almost passed away overnight because of a doctor ignoring her pain. She's had four kids and been through a lot, so her pain tolerance is really high. We all know she won't go to the hospital unless it's very serious. She was incapacitated by the pain in her abdomen, passing out, vomiting, delirious, etc., but when she finally went in, the doctor told her to take some pain medicine and go home. So we did that. The medicine put her asleep, but the pain woke her up even through the medication.
We took her back to the hospital in the middle of the night and the pain was even worse than before. This time we saw a different doctor who confirmed that she had appendicitis, the most severe that the operating doctor had ever seen. They told us that we were lucky it didn't rupture during her medicated sleep, shock her system into sepsis, and kill her.
For what it's worth, our intention with sharing these stories is not to scare you into never seeing a doctor again. There are many good and caring doctors in the world. But it has been proven that there is a gender bias in medicine (while there is a heavy bias for women in general, we should note, it's statistically much worse for black women), and if you think something is wrong with your body, you know your body best — so don't allow a medical professional to minimize that. And if you have the resources to do so, always consider getting a second (or third) opinion.
Note: Some submissions have been lightly edited for length and/or clarity.