At this time of year we all are focused on what we can to get in better shape and shed unnecessary pounds. The news is full of stories with weight loss tips and the reality TV series “Biggest Loser” is a hit.

Aside from the obvious health reasons, a recent story from Health.Com highlights a sad reality: women who are more than 20 pounds overweight are at risk of getting poor medical care. The author refers to recent studies that have found that women who are overweight are at risk of being misdiagnosed and disrespected and discriminated against.

Initially, there are practical reasons that must be considered. Due a woman’s weight, physical examinations and diagnostic studies become tougher to perform.

An example given was of a woman who went to a physician with complaints of pelvic pain. Her doctor performed a pelvic exam and palpated her uterus but did not feel anything. Unfortunately the pain continued and the woman was found to have a fibroid cyst that had grown substantially by the time the woman was able to be seen by a specialist.

Likewise, diagnostic testing is harder to perform. Large women may not fit into CT and MRI diagnostic machines. Ultrasound, a particularly common test used to diagnose uterine tumors, ovarian cysts and to evaluate the health of the mother and baby during pregnancy is substantially compromised, as ultrasound beams cannot penetrate more than 8 centimeters of subcutaneous fat.

Sometimes, the necessary equipment to treat large women is unavailable. Electronic stethoscopes are often necessary in order to appropriately hear heart and lung sounds. Unfortunately, not all doctors have them. Heavy people may also require special surgical tables that will support their weight. Again, not all hospitals have this equipment.

On the other hand, the problem also involves disrespect and discrimination. In one study, it was found that 17% of the physicians contacted indicated that they were reluctant to do pelvic exams on obese women.

Similarly, some doctors are reluctant to perform surgery on very overweight patients due to the fact that the operations are more difficult and time consuming.
In many instances, doctors’ are dismissive and judgmental based on a patient’s weight.

While the studies referred to deal specifically to problems encountered by women, it seems obvious that very heavy men are encountering the same issues.
James Roswold
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James Roswold is a Kansas & Missouri personal injury, workers comp, and medical malpractice attorney.
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