It's a sad and very serious reality: Fat people just aren't treated the same in the doctor's office as everyone else. Doctors regularly misdiagnose serious health issues, attributing every issue a bigger person has to just "weight." Unfortunately, health is so much more than body composition and a number on a scale.
The conversation is in the news lately, however, because a plus-size woman has bravely come out to tell her story of being misdiagnosed as "just fat" when really she was suffering from cancer for years. Sadly, plus-size people are all too familiar with her story.
For years, Rebecca Hiles was told her weight was the sole cause of the incessant coughing fits she suffered from for years.
When she was 17, Hiles developed bronchitis and walking pneumonia, which turned into daily coughing attacks. "Doctors said, 'If you lost weight, you wouldn't have this many coughing fits,'" she recalled.
It wasn't until she began coughing up blood that she really knew it could be something more. But doctors still chalked it up to nothing — "probably" a broken blood vessel, they suggested.
Hiles' condition continued to worsen into her college years.
"I was very active, but I wasn't losing weight and my breathing was just getting worse," she explained, noting she danced and was naturally active on campus. "Any time I went to see the doctor to figure out why I couldn't shake this cold or that cold, I was given an antibiotic and told to lose weight."
Her coughing fits became so severe she was unable to control her bladder and had to resort to wearing adult diapers. In addition, the coughing often resulted in vomiting. And still, doctors responded with, "We don't know what to tell you — it's clearly just weight-related."
Finally, after years of hearing the same thing over and over, Hiles was led to a pulmonologist who tested her lung function.
Hiles was 23 when her new primary care physician suggested she see another kind of doctor. "She listened when I said, 'Look, I've been working out.' And she listened to my daily activities and the food I was eating. And she said, 'Okay, if you're still having these symptoms and doing all these things, we need to talk to a different person,'" she explained.
But before she could see the pulmonologist, Hiles had another bloody coughing fit, which landed her in the ER and ultimately led doctors to find a tumor in her bronchial tube. Hiles was forced to have surgery to remove her entire left lung, which was black and rotting with dead tissue.
"When my surgeon told me a diagnosis five years prior could’ve saved my lung, I remember a feeling of complete and utter rage. Because I remembered the five years I spent looking for some kind of reason why I was always coughing, always sick," Hiles wrote. "Most of all, I remembered being consistently told that the reason I was sick was because I was fat."
Unfortunately, Hiles' story isn't the first example of a scary, shocking diagnosis that could have been prevented if weight stereotypes didn't exist.
There's even evidence that doctors pay LESS attention to plus-size people, simply because they chalk all their health issues up to being overweight. One study asked 122 doctors about their attitudes toward obese patients. Sadly, the doctors "reported that seeing patients was a greater waste of their time the heavier that they were, that physicians would like their jobs less as their patients increased in size, that heavier patients were viewed to be more annoying, and that physicians felt less patience the heavier the patient was."
Women aren't keeping hush-hush about the issue, either.
No matter the doctor or the issue, it always comes back to weight.