'Gaslighting' is 2022's word of the year. Healthcare is not immune to its flame.

"Gaslighting" was Merriam-Webster's word of the year in 2022, the dictionary announced Nov. 28. As "gaslighting" has become more pervasive in the English language, it has gained associations with the medical field — albeit less obvious ones than last year's word, "vaccine." 

Gaslighting — "the act or practice of grossly misleading someone especially for one's own advantage," as defined by Merriam-Webster — saw a 1,740 percent increase in lookups during 2022, the dictionary reported. 

"In this age of misinformation — of 'fake news,' conspiracy theories, Twitter trolls and deepfakes — gaslighting has emerged as a word for our time," according to Merriam-Webster. It has also emerged as a word for condescending physicians, per recent Google trends. 

In April 2022, the term "medical gaslighting" hit its highest search rate since 2006. It peaked again in August. June was the only month in 2022 that "medical gaslighting" was never searched on Google, displaying a newfound steady interest in the term. 

A slew of articles emerged in the spring with "medical gaslighting" in their headlines. A March 28 article in The New York Times applied the term to many women's experiences of feeling talked down to by their physicians, who might blame their symptoms on a lack of self-care, mental health problems or their weight. This could contribute to more frequent misdiagnoses in women, the article alleged. 

One story featured in the Times article was that of Michelle Cho, a medical student who was diagnosed with allergies and pregnancy before finally learning she had systemic lupus erythematosus. By the time she was correctly diagnosed, she had developed kidney failure, a heart murmur and pneumonia.

"I left [my physician's office] each time feeling disappointed, sad and uneasy, because I knew they had not solved my problem or helped me in any way, and it had been yet another wasted day," Ms. Cho, told the Times. "It felt like they were saying, 'It's all in my head.'"

Another woman featured in the article, a writer named Raimey Gallant, was told she was "young, healthy and just lazy," by her male doctor after experiencing weight loss, hair loss, full-body rashes and debilitating period pains. She was later diagnosed with Graves' Disease and endometriosis. 

Jennifer Mieres, a cardiologist for New Hyde Park, N.Y.-based Northwell Health, told the Times that when "women show up with symptoms that don't fit into the algorithm we’re taught in medical school," they get "gaslit and ignored."

"Medical gaslighting" was also a topic on a March episode of Today. A Washington Post columnist wrote an article on it in April. The headline of a May Insider article read: "Doctors told a 29-year-old she had anxiety and that she was 'too young for cancer.' She had stage 4 kidney cancer." 

Women are not the only patients who have related to "medical gaslighting." Patients of color have used it to describe their experiences receiving healthcare, the American Migraine Foundation has characterized it as a concern for those with "invisible diseases" and a September study published to the National Library of Medicine has linked the term to patients with long COVID-19 symptoms who are frequently dismissed by their physicians. 

Geriatric, overweight and LGBTQ+ patients are also more likely to be medically gaslit, The New York Times reported July 29. 

"I always tell my patients that they are the expert of their body," Nicole Mitchell, MD, director of diversity, equity and inclusion for the obstetrics and gynecology department at Los Angeles-based University of Southern California's medical school, told the Times

"Doctors need to be held accountable."

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