Eden woman Michelle Dobrogosz, 64, says she's got to pick her battles when seeking medical treatment, worried she'll be "given the brush off" by healthcare professionals.
On presenting to a GP with a severe headaches, Ms Dobrogosz was allegedly told to pull herself together and seek therapy "if I continued to be a hypochondriac".
After seeking a second opinion, it turned out she had a severe sinus infection requiring urgent treatment.
After "having heart issues for years" Ms Dobrogosz sought treatment from a Sydney-based heart specialist who told her to "come back in two years". Within six months, she was having triple-bypass surgery.
"It would never have gotten as far as I did if I'd had the right treatment - but I kept getting the brush-off."
Ms Dobrogosz said she now felt as though she had to weigh up whether medical appointments were worth the emotional toll of not being believed.
"I have to think carefully before making an appointment now because I don't know if I'm going to go to the doctor and get results or get the brush off again.
"I don't understand why they're not believing me. It's never easy," she said.
Despite these hardships Ms Dobrogosz wanted to remind others to be more proactive in self-advocating.
"We're responsible for our own health and if we don't speak out no one is going to," she said.
Critical care nurse and patient advocate Kate Hoskin said gender or age often caused unconscious bias in healthcare settings.
She said in emergency, women experiencing a heart attack may not present with symptoms typically seen in men, like chest pain or shortness of breath.
"Often we rely on medical investigations like blood tests to prove a woman's having a heart attack rather than overt psychical assessments.
In her experience, she found the energy invested into medical care also declined for people over 65, with care tending to be "less robust".
She found past medical histories also played a part during evaluation. In individuals with complex histories, such as anxiety, physical symptoms could be assumed to be psychosomatic.
Project officer for the Sex and Gender Policies in Medical Research project Laura Hallam said gaps in medical research often meant there was little information available on women's experiences of certain chronic conditions like heart disease.
She said a lot of medical research conducted on men or male animals in the past still informed practitioner guidelines, with women also underrepresented as participants.
She said differences between men and women based on sex were often overlooked factors in research.
As a nurse and patient advocate, Ms Hoskin offered ways people could advocate for better health outcomes.
She said letting the doctor know you are confident in their practice could be helpful and it was best not to bombard a doctor with every problem at once.
She also recommended writing down questions for your doctor ahead of time and learning how to better describe the pain by researching symptoms.
She said a second opinion would be the best option if you're feeling unsure about your diagnosis, but a patient advocacy service could also be used to help garner better outcomes.
Click here if you would like to get in touch with Kate Hoskin.
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