A misdiagnosis can keep you from getting the right treatment and could change your life. According to a study from 2014 on the frequency of diagnostic errors, at least 1 in 20 adults is misdiagnosed in the U.S. every year. Unfortunately, that means your risk of being misdiagnosed may not be as low as you think.
Here are some of the most common medical misdiagnoses and what you can do to get the right diagnosis to improve your health:
- Cancer. Breast cancer, sarcomas, melanoma, and lymphoma are all commonly misdiagnosed. A common example of a breast cancer misdiagnosis would be when a physician overlooks a small lump, believing it to be a cyst or some other benign growth. Depending on how long it takes to get the proper diagnosis, the threat of the cancer spreading or growing may increase exponentially. Misinformation, incomplete medical histories, and inadequate doctor evaluations can all lead to a serious cancer misdiagnosis.
- Lyme disease. This condition is popping up in the news more and more every day. Most recently, singer Avril Lavigne was diagnosed with Lyme disease after being told for months that her condition was chronic fatigue syndrome or psychological in nature. The disease can easily be treated if caught early enough, but many doctors, including specialists, regularly fail to test for Lyme disease.
- If you are experiencing fatigue, headaches, or other unexplained symptoms, ask your doctor to rule out Lyme disease before moving on to a more benign diagnosis like chronic fatigue syndrome. If left undiagnosed, the condition can cause serious effects that may last for the rest of your life.
- Lupus. Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that causes joint pain, fatigue, and internal organ damage. It is commonly misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, arthritis, or fibromyalgia, which involve many of the same symptoms. To test for lupus, doctors perform a blood count, x-ray, or other microscopic tests to identify disease markers.
- Mental disorders. Mental disorders can be very challenging to diagnose because symptoms for many conditions overlap. You may suffer from depression alone, or it may be a symptom of a larger condition such as PTSD or bipolar disorder. Accurately diagnosing a mental disorder takes time, a comprehensive medical history, and a physical exam. Without the right diagnosis, you may not receive the right kind of medication to balance out your symptoms. In severe cases, an undiagnosed disorder can lead to death.
- Celiac. Gluten has been a hot topic lately, but many people living with celiac disease may still not know it. Celiac can be diagnosed easily with a blood test, but the symptoms vary widely from person to person. If a doctor believes the symptoms are more closely aligned with another illness, he or she may not offer a celiac test. Celiac is most commonly mistaken for irritable bowel syndrome. Ask for a celiac test if you have a history of digestive upset, abdominal pain, joint pain, depression, or other unexplained symptoms like headaches.
- Stroke and heart attacks. Strokes are commonly misdiagnosed as migraines, intoxication, or vertigo in young people. Any typical stroke symptoms like disorientation, trouble seeing, severe headache, or numbness are signs you need to be evaluated for stroke, regardless of your age. Heart attacks, typically in young people, may be misdiagnosed as indigestion.
If you ever feel like your symptoms do not match up with your diagnosis or if your treatment is not minimizing your experience of the symptoms, consider getting a second opinion. It never hurts to see someone else, and it may help you get to the root of your illness so you can get the treatment you deserve from a health care provider. Taking a more proactive approach in your health may also help you avoid becoming a victim of medical malpractice.