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Doctors Are Failing To Diagnose Black Women With PCOS

“I could barely stand, it was like my whole body had shut down”, said 22-year-old Courtney Boateng.  “I had to change pads every 45 minutes, I was bleeding through my clothes at home, and I could feel all these massive clots coming out of me. I could have filled buckets [with my blood]. It was the worst period of my life.”  This was the traumatic menstrual experience that ended up lasting for over two weeks and prompted Boateng to seek help with a medical professional. At the emergency appointment, the doctor told her that her symptoms were just related to her stress and her weight and sent her home with ibuprofen. It took her five gynecologist appointments over nine months for her to finally be referred for an ultrasound and ultimately diagnosed with PCOS. This experience is a common reality many Black women have in the healthcare system.

Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, commonly known as PCOS, is an endocrine disorder that affects from either 2% to 20% of women aged 18 to 44–depending on how one defines the criteria. PCOS is a set of symptoms caused by an elevated level of androgens (male hormones like testosterone) in a woman’s body that cause an abnormal amount of cysts or sacs on a woman’s ovaries. These hormones cause everything from prolonged menstruation cycles to no menstruation, to premature balding, to the appearance of hair in unusual places on a woman’s body, to excessive and sudden weight gain. It also often comes with painful, heavy-flow periods that can be extremely disruptive to a woman’s everyday life.

Not only that, but PCOS is the leading cause of infertility among women, causing over 75% of cases having to do with ovulation disruption.

An estimated 50% of annual PCOS cases go undiagnosed in the U.S., with many placing the blame on the ignorance of primary care physicians.

The reason that this disorder is so under- and misdiagnosed by doctors is that, often, many of PCOS’s symptoms (like abnormal periods, weight gain, and mood fluctuations) are mistaken for symptoms of stress, puberty, or sometimes, just chalked up to a bad diet. And perhaps above all, PCOS is a disorder that occurs only in women, a class of people that doctors notoriously don’t take as seriously.

Many patients also suspect that PCOS isn’t taken as seriously by doctors because it’s most likely to occur in overweight patients, with up to 80% of women suffering from PCOS also falling to the “obese” category. However, obesity is a symptom of PCOS, not a cause; the elevated levels of androgen hormones in a woman’s body make her blood sugar more resistant to insulin, making her more prone to weight gain. This also makes a woman with PCOS more prone to coming down with Type 2 Diabetes–a common condition associated with the disorder.

Many people believe that doctors’ responses to women’s health complaints are rooted in internalized, out-dated beliefs about “hysterical women”, a historical catchall mental disorder diagnosis that women were commonly diagnosed with starting in the 17th century. Still, these outdated beliefs about the fragility of female mental health persist today, with women being more likely to be prescribed antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications than men are (as opposed to pain medication or further testing) when they visit the doctor with pain.

To make matters worse, black patients are often (erroneously) thought by doctors to be more tolerant to pain than their white peers, as is exemplified in a 2012 study that found that black patients were 22% less likely than white patients to be prescribed pain medication by their doctors.

This theory about doctors’ beliefs was further proven when a study was conducted on 200 white medical students and residents. The students were quizzed on multiple old wives’ tales about different races, like the old one: “black people have ‘thicker skin’ than white people”. Half of the medical students thought one or more of the false statements were true, which gives weight to the theory that doctors don’t take black pain as seriously.

The one-two punch of being a woman and being black makes the doctor’s office an especially stressful place for an Afro-Latina to be.

This flippancy towards women’s health problems is exasperated in health care professionals’ treatment of women of color. PCOS is no more common in white women than black women, but black women are vastly less likely to be accurately diagnosed and treated for the disorder (as with many other health disorders).

So, unfortunately, like many health issues, black women are less likely to be taken seriously by doctors when it comes to PCOS. This is a particularly frustrating reality seeing as PCOS is treatable, with symptoms greatly improving through largely inexpensive lifestyle fixes such as adding diet and exercise programs into their daily regimens or simply taking hormonal birth control pills.

But as more and more studies bring to light the widespread reality of implicit bias among doctors, many black women are becoming frustrated at how they seem to be the ones getting the brunt of their doctors’ indifference. Although ovarian cysts can be detected via ultrasound, it’s often difficult for black women to be referred to ultrasounds by their doctors who aren’t taking their pain seriously.

Many experts blame doctors’ failure of black women on their implicit bias.

Implicit bias is defined by PubMed as “a negative evaluation of a person on the basis of irrelevant characteristics such as race or gender” caused by “ associations outside conscious awareness”. That means that some doctors may misdiagnose or under-diagnosed patients based on racist or sexist conclusions that they’re not even aware they’re making.

This problem of implicit bias among the medical community is exasperated by the lack of diversity among doctors, with only 5% being Latino (regardless of the fact that Latinos are the fastest growing ethnic group in the U.S.), and only 4% of doctors in the U.S. being black.

Linda Blount, president of the Black Women’s Health Imperative, is very matter-of-fact when describing the realities that implicit bias has at the doctor’s office: “We want to think that physicians just view us as a patient, and they’ll treat everyone the same, but they don’t,” she says. “Their bias absolutely makes its way into the exam room.”

Somewhat surprisingly, this bias transcends social and economic factors and has little to do with class. “When you look at inequalities in healthcare, you see a lot of studies tying the problems to race and poverty, but there’s not a lot about educated, insured black women who are not poor”, says Bette Parks Sacks, Assistant Professor of Social Welfare at UC BerkeleySacks. “Yet infant mortality rates for black women with a college degree are higher than those for white women with just a high school education.”

The under-diagnosis of PCOS in black women is just another example of the way the American healthcare system is letting down black women.

Because of the structural racism within the healthcare community, black women are often told that their very real symptoms are “all in their heads” or simply stress-related.

The most dangerous facet of this pattern is that once physicians decide that a patient’s symptoms are simply stress-related, they stop searching for another diagnosis. This leaves many Afro-Latinas struggling with their PCOS alone, believing that their long and intense periods, hair loss, weight gain, insulin resistance, and often, mood-related disorders, are simply a symptom of self-induced stress.

It’s time that women of color stop being told that all they need is an Advil and a yoga regimen to improve the sometimes debilitating symptoms of PCOS. What they need instead is doctors to get real to the internalized racism they may enacting, and start taking black women’s pain seriously.

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Mother And Teen Daughter Endured Ten Years Of Separation, A Dramatic Border, And A Covid Hospitalization To Be Together

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Mother And Teen Daughter Endured Ten Years Of Separation, A Dramatic Border, And A Covid Hospitalization To Be Together

Separated from her mother for a decade, seventeen-year-old Cindy (who is only being identified by her first name) took a chance last month to see her. Despite her age, a raging pandemic, and the risks of crossing the Mexico–United States border she journeyed from Honduras to see her mother in New York. Her love for her mother was so deep, she was willing to risk everything.

In her mission, Cindy wound up in U.S. immigration facilities where she contracted Covid-19. After three days in a hospital bed in California, Cindy was finally able to contact her mother who had not learned of her daughter’s hospitalization.

Thanks to the help of a doctor who lent her their phone Cindy was able to make the call to her mother, Maria Ana.

“There are backlogs and delays in communication that are really unacceptable,” Maria Ana’s immigration lawyer Kate Goldfinch, who is also the president of the nonprofit Vecina, explained to NBC.

After learning about her daughter’s COVID-19 hospitalization, Maria Ana feared the worst. “Following weeks of anguish and uncertainty, Maria Ana spent most of her nights painting the bedroom she has fixed for Cindy, just ‘waiting for my girl,'” she explained to NBC.

Last Wednesday night, Maria Ana flew to San Diego to be with her daughter after she’d finally recovered from Covid.

At the emotional mother-daughter reunion, Maria Ana assured her daughter “no one else is going to hurt you.”

After Cindy crossed the border, she spent several days in a detention facility in Texas in the custody of Customs and Border Protection. According to NBC “On any given night, Cindy said, she would share two mattresses with about eight other girls. She could shower only every five days in one of the eight showers the facility had to serve 700 girls.”

“It was really bad,” Cindy told the outlet..

Cindy was among almost 13,350 unaccompanied children left in the care and custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement at HHS. This last year has seen over 3,715 unaccompanied children at these facilities diagnosed with Covid-19. Worse, there are currently 528 unaccompanied children who have tested positive for Covid-19 and put in medical isolation.

Now, immigration advocates and families are pressing the U.S. government to pick up reunions of children and their families in the United States. Over 80 percent of unaccompanied minors currently in federal custody have family living in the states. According to Goldfinch, “40 percent have parents in the U.S.”

“So we would think that it would be fairly quick and simple to release a child to their own parent. But because of the chaos of the system, the reunification of these kids with their parents is really frustrating and backlogged,” Goldfinch explained, “most frustrating, of course, for the actual children and their parents.”

While Cindy was in the custody of the Department of Health and Human Services, no one managed to notify Ana Maria that her daughter was in the hospital according to Goldfinch

“I don’t know why my daughter has to be suffering this way, because it’s not fair. It’s something very sad for me,” Maria Ana explained to NBC

“I’ve already been through a lot,” Cindy went onto share. “But I hope it’s all worth it.”

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Here’s What You Should Know About Getting Your Covid Vaccine

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Here’s What You Should Know About Getting Your Covid Vaccine

The world has almost turned the page on the Covid pandemic that has upended our lives for the last year. Vaccine strategies across the nation are helping to end the pandemic, but we are not out of the woods yet. Here are some things you and your family should know about getting your vaccination.

The vaccines are safe and effective.

In the U.S., there are three main vaccines that people are getting: Moderna, Pfizer, and Johnson & Johnson. All three have been proven to be safe and effective. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, more than 109 million doses of the vaccines have been administered to people in the U.S. Millions of Americans have lined up and gotten vaccinated with a very small number experiencing the rare serious side effects.

The common side effects from the Covid vaccine are pain or swelling at the injection site, headache and chills, or a fever. These side effects disappear on their own quickly. After your vaccine, according to the CDC, you can expect to be asked to wait 15-30 minutes to make sure you don’t have an allergic reaction to the vaccine. Vaccination personnel are equipped with the medication and treatments needed to reverse serious and threatening allergic reactions to the vaccine.

There are currently three vaccines available in the U.S.

Americans can expect to receive either the Pfizer-BioTech, Moderna, or Johnson & Johnson / Janssen vaccine. Currently, these three are the vaccines that have been approved for use in the U.S. to end the pandemic. Pfizer-BioTech and Moderna vaccines require two shots taken three weeks and four weeks apart, respectively. Johnson & Johnson is a one-shot vaccine. All have been proven effective in preventing hospitalization from the virus.

There are currently two more vaccines in Phase 3 of their trial that could bring even more relief to the American public. The Oxford-AstraZeneca and Novava vaccines are currently being tested and are showing promising results in the U.S. trials.

Speak with your healthcare provider about medications and the vaccine.

There is still a lot we do not know about the vaccine as we are still learning its full effect. As of now, healthcare providers and experts don’t recommend taking pain relievers (such as aspirin, ibuprofen, and acetaminophen) or antihistamines to avoid vaccination side effects. It is unclear how these medications will impact the efficacy of the vaccine.

The vaccine is not a replacement for wearing masks and practicing social distancing.

It is important to make sure that you follow proper Covid safety guidelines when you get vaccinated. This is for the safety of you, your healthcare provider, and anyone else in the area.

Covid safety guidelines aren’t going away any time soon. Even as you and those you know get vaccinated, it is important that people continue to wear masks when in public and maintain social distancing when possible. While the vaccines are effective in protecting you from getting sick and going to the hospital, doctors are still learning whether or not vaccinated people can spread Covid. This is why fully vaccinated people need to practice social distancing and continue wearing masks to ensure that they keep their communities safe.

However, for people who are fully vaccinated, life is a little freer. According to the CDC, fully vaccinated people can gather with other fully vaccinated people indoors without masks and no social distancing. Fully vaccinated people can even gather with one unvaccinated person from another household who is at a low-risk of severe Covid infection. Lastly, fully vaccinated people do not have to quarantine when they are exposed if asymptomatic.

This is the first set of guidelines released for fully vaccinated people and it is showing that life can start getting back to normal as more people line up to get their shots when they are eligible.

READ: Rite Aid Refused To Give Undocumented Residents The COVID-19 Vaccine Even Though They’re Eligible

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