There’s nothing scarier than finding out that you have a serious illness — or fearing that you do. You put a tremendous amount of faith in your doctor, trusting that he or she has the knowledge and the tools necessary to determine the cause of your pain and help you get on the road back to health. The harsh reality is that doctors are only human and they sometimes make mistakes. Because the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions and diseases have many of the same symptoms, it can be difficult to make the correct diagnosis right away.
According to a 2014 study reported by BMJ Quality & Safety, there are 12 million cases of misdiagnoses in the United States each year, amounting to a full 5 percent of those who seek outpatient care. Researchers believe that as many as half of those misdiagnoses could result in “severe harm.” Other studies have shown that misdiagnoses of fatal illnesses happen in as many as 20 percent of cases.
Why Misdiagnoses Occur
There are many circumstances and reasons that can cause a doctor to incorrectly diagnose a patient with one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions. Your medical record is an important component of a diagnosis, since it gives your doctor a complete picture of what is and has been going on with you, rather than just a snapshot of the present. If your record is incomplete — perhaps you have changed doctors or some information has been lost — then your doctor may not have enough information to diagnose you properly. Another limitation is that your doctor may not have come across your illness before, especially if it is uncommon or you have unusual symptoms.
A correct diagnosis can also be hampered if symptoms are common and shared by many illnesses. The scariest reason, and perhaps the most difficult reason for patients to come to grips with, is simple negligence on behalf of the doctor. A doctor who is having a bad day, has missed out on a few nights of sleep, or is distracted by personal issues may not read a chart thoroughly or could overlook a test that he or she should have ordered.
The Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Conditions and Illnesses
Here is a list of a number of diseases and illnesses that are frequently misdiagnosed by physicians:
Lupus is an autoimmune disease. Autoimmune diseases cause the immune system to attack healthy cells and tissues by mistake. Parts of the body that are attacked include the brain, kidneys, joints, skin, lungs, heart, and blood vessels.
Pain, fatigue, weakness, stiffness, swollen joints, and depression are common to many autoimmune diseases and that is why a misdiagnosis often happens.
Celiac Disease is also an autoimmune disease, and this condition causes the body to attack gluten. Symptoms can include diarrhea, bloating and flatulence, abdominal pain or cramps, weight loss, vomiting, and leg cramps. Misdiagnoses include irritable bowel syndrome, ulcerative colitis, and Crohn’s disease. There is a simple blood test that can diagnose Celiac disease.
Lyme Disease is spread by infected ticks. Its symptoms include joint pain and swelling, numbness in the limbs, severe headaches, neck stiffness, and fatigue. Clearly, it shares many symptoms with certain autoimmune conditions and can also be mistaken for mononucleosis, flu, and depression. However, a two-step blood test can accurately diagnose Lyme disease.
Fibromyalgia has a host of symptoms, the most significant being a widespread dull ache that affects all four quadrants of the body. Other symptoms include fatigue, brain fog, digestive issues, and migraines. While a blood test can aid in diagnosis, your doctor will rely mainly on your symptoms. Fibromyalgia is often mistaken for rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Cancer is another one of the commonly misdiagnosed conditions and is a multifaceted disease that often has few or no symptoms for many years. Unexplained bleeding in urine, stools, or phlegm; shortness of breath; moles or freckles that have unusual shapes or have changed shape over time; and hard, painless lumps on the breasts or testes are some of the many symptoms that may indicate cancer. Of course, these may be signs of other illnesses, or they may be harmless. When cancer is suspected, your doctor should examine you thoroughly, explore your family history, and may order blood tests, scans, or a biopsy if a cyst or tumor is involved.
Depression is a complex mood disorder with many manifestations and symptoms. Sadness, fatigue, insomnia, weight changes, and difficulty concentrating are common symptoms of depression — but can also be indicative of many other illnesses.
Heart conditions — A pulmonary embolism results when the main artery to the lungs becomes blocked, causing chest pains, shortness of breath, or anxiety. It is often mistaken for an asthma attack, pneumonia, or a heart attack. A heart attack also causes chest pain and shortness of breath, but a doctor who does not take your symptoms seriously could mistake a heart attack for indigestion or stress/anxiety.
Parkinson’s Disease affects the central nervous system, causing body tremors, muscle stiffness, and balance problems. There is no diagnostic test for Parkinson’s Disease. It can be mistaken for stress, a stroke, multiple sclerosis, or Alzheimer’s disease.
Multiple Sclerosis is another autoimmune disease and it affects your immune and central nervous systems. Early warning signs can include visual disturbances, shooting pains, numbness, itching, fatigue, gait problems, depression, brain fog, and pain. MS shares symptoms with many other conditions and is often difficult to diagnose, and available tests and scans still must be interpreted by your doctor.
Chronic Fatigue Syndrome CFS) — There is no test for CFS, and it is often diagnosed when other illnesses have been ruled out. Symptoms can include memory loss or difficulty concentrating, joint pain, extreme fatigue, and painful lymph nodes.
Protecting Yourself from a Misdiagnosis
Follow these tips to help protect yourself or a loved one from suffering for months or years from a misdiagnosis:
- The most important thing you can do to protect yourself from a doctor’s mistake is to take an active role in your own health and treatment. Above all, you must trust yourself. You know yourself better than anyone, and if you feel strongly that something is not right, don’t let any healthcare professional dismiss you or your symptoms.
- Be proactive. Do your research before you get to your doctor’s office. Make a list of your symptoms, and note any medications you take and any relevant family history. Ask questions during your appointment, and follow up later if you didn’t get the answers you need or if you think of something you overlooked.
- Getting a second opinion is important if you’ve been diagnosed with a serious illness — or if you’re unsatisfied with your doctor’s evaluation. Have confidence in your right to take control of your own health, and listen to your gut. It could save a lot of pain and suffering, and it could even save your life.
Personal Injury Attorneys That Will Fight For Your
The attorneys of Donaghue & Labrum understand the hurt, expense, and sense of betrayal that can come from a doctor’s misdiagnosis. If your doctor failed to order tests, failed to take one or more of your symptoms seriously, misread diagnostic results, or if you feel he or she took too long to correctly diagnose your illness, call us today. We have successfully represented patients suffering from a misdiagnoses and their families for decades, fighting for justice and lifting the financial burden faced by those who simply trusted their doctor.
Our attorneys have represented plaintiffs and defendants in US Federal Court and in the Courts of Common Pleas of Delaware County, Chester County, and other surrounding counties. Visit us for a free consultation in our Media or West Chester offices, or we’ll come to you in the comfort of your own home. If your doctor incorrectly diagnosed you with one of the commonly misdiagnosed conditions, you deserve to be compensated. Contact Donaghue & Labrum today.