What is ‘Medical Gaslighting’ and What You Should Do If It Happens to You.



Being told your perceived sickness is “all in your head” can be a jarring and borderline traumatic experience. Having your concerns be dismissed can have you doubting your own sanity and can cause stress that can further damage your physical and mental health. Gaslighting in medicine can be a powerful way that doctors downplay a person’s own medical worries, denying a patient’s claims of pain and ultimately stripping them of their dignity.

What does ‘Medical Gaslighting’ mean?

The term was first coined by JAMA in 2020 in a journal about COVID-19 “long-haulers.” As cases spiked in March of 2020, many patients who had symptoms of the virus were told by their medical professionals that their symptoms were purely psychological. However, these patients were ultimately diagnosed with a long COVID. This is medical gaslighting, a deliberate or subconscious pattern of behavior where healthcare providers dismiss or invalidate a patient’s concerns, making them question their own perception and reality. Medical gaslighting can have dire consequences including a delayed diagnosis and worsening symptoms.

How to spot Medical Gaslighting

Experiencing medical gaslighting for the first time can be an upsetting and confusing experience. Here are some red flags to look for when a doctor dismisses your claims:

  • Dismissing Symptoms: One of the key signs of medical gaslighting is when a healthcare provider dismisses or trivializes a patient’s symptoms, attributing them to stress or anxiety without conducting a thorough examination.
  • Minimizing Concerns: Healthcare professionals may minimize a patient’s concerns, making them feel as if their worries are unwarranted or exaggerated. This can create a power dynamic that undermines the patient’s ability to advocate for themselves.
  • Blaming the Patient: Medical gaslighting sometimes involves placing blame on the patient for their health issues, implying that their lifestyle choices or behaviors are the root cause, even in the absence of conclusive evidence.
  • Ignoring Previous Diagnoses: If a patient has a pre-existing medical condition or a history of specific symptoms, medical gaslighting occurs when new symptoms are dismissed without considering the patient’s medical history.

Links to Medical Malpractice

Medical gaslighting is closely related to medical malpractice, as it involves a breach of the standard of care expected from healthcare providers. The failure to properly diagnose or address a patient’s concerns can lead to severe consequences, including worsening health conditions, additional medical complications, or even death. In legal terms, medical malpractice occurs when a healthcare professional deviates from the accepted standard of care, resulting in harm to the patient.

What to Do If You Experience Medical Gaslighting:

Medical gaslighting can have long-lasting effects on your health and lead to financial strain.

  • Seek a Second Opinion: If you feel your concerns are not being adequately addressed, consider seeking a second opinion from another healthcare professional.
  • Document Everything: Keep detailed records of your symptoms, interactions with healthcare providers, and any relevant medical information. This documentation can be valuable if legal action becomes necessary.
  • Speak Up: Be assertive in communicating your concerns with your healthcare provider. If necessary, seek a different healthcare professional who will take your concerns seriously.
  • Consult a Legal Professional: If you believe you have experienced medical gaslighting leading to harm, consult with a medical malpractice attorney to explore your legal options.


Medical gaslighting is a serious issue that can have profound consequences for patient health. Recognizing the signs, understanding its relation to medical malpractice, and being aware of legal implications can empower patients to advocate for their well-being and seek justice if necessary.