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6 Serious Conditions Doctors Misdiagnose

Never been misdiagnosed with the wrong condition? You probably will be at some point. According to the US Institute of Medicine, the vast majority of Americans will get an incorrect diagnosis during their lifetime, and suffer inappropriate and ineffective treatments as a result.

Find related articles such as Cancer Misdiagnosis: Do I Have A Medical Malpractice Lawsuit?

Some conditions give doctors more trouble than others. Here are the top 6 diseases that physicians miss the first time around:

1. Fibromyalgia

There are two problems with fibromyalgia, a condition that causes almost constant pain:

  1. Doctors don't know what causes it and
  2. they're not being trained to recognize its symptoms

Researchers have suggested, and it's probably the best theory we have, that a problem in the brain amplifies pain signals, or even creates them when they're absent. Imbalanced hormones may also be a trigger, and women are more likely than men to suffer from fibromyalgia. In fact, according to the US Office for Women's Health, women make up about 90% of all the people with the condition.

But a lack of understanding isn't the only difficulty. Even in combination, fibromyalgia's main symptoms look a lot like other diseases. Thyroid disorders and autoimmune diseases can all cause fatigue, "foggy thinking" and chronic pain, the markers of fibromyalgia.

2. Lupus

An autoimmune disorder that results in chronic skin inflammation, lupus is often confused for other conditions, like rheumatoid arthritis, that affect connective tissue. Doctors even have a name for this, when symptoms can fit just as easily in two or more medical definitions: "overlap disease."

Lupus is frequently diagnosed based on a large rash across a patient's cheeks. It looks like a butterfly, but lots of people with lupus don't have it. Problematically, most patients only experience intermittent symptoms, which means they're less likely to look for a doctor's help than people who experience discomfort all the time.

3. Celiac Disease

Sufferers from this autoimmune disorder can't tolerate gluten, a type of protein contained in almost every grain, including staples like wheat and rye. In people with celiac, gluten literally damages the gastrointestinal lining, impairing the organ's ability to utilize other nutrients as well.

There's one industry that hasn't missed the mark on celiac disease: food manufacturers. Between 2010 and 2015, food producers doubled their revenues for gluten-free products, and industry analysts believe the surge will only continue.

But the health care industry is lagging far behind. So are patients, many of whom are still unaware of celiac disease's existence. Those two factors have led the University of Chicago to estimate that nearly 83% of people with celiac disease are undiagnosed.

4. Cancer

One of the world's deadliest killers is also one of its hardest to catch. Almost 30% of cancer cases are initially misdiagnosed, according to a study from the Journal of Clinical Oncology.

For one, the disease usually doesn't present any early symptoms. And when it does, the signs often "mimic" other disorders.

As with any disease that confuses doctors, a cancer misdiagnosis can cut both ways. While it's less common than being misdiagnosed with a different condition, some patients are mistakenly diagnosed with a cancer they don't actually have. The ramifications of diagnostic errors like that can't be understated. Some patients have been subjected to years of agonizing treatment, like chemotherapy, only to learn later that their symptoms were being caused by something else.

5. Thyroidism Conditions

While it's contribution to early human development is most pronounced, the thyroid gland actually produces hormones that affect us all the time. It wouldn't be an overstatement to say that every cell in our bodies is affected in some way by a chemical manufactured by the gland.

Since the thyroid's impact on human biology is systemic, it's not surprising that thyroid problems can manifest in numerous symptoms and signs. But more often than not, doctors are simply dismissing patients symptoms as "a normal part of aging," says Dr. Steven Hotze, author of "Hormones, Health and Happiness."

Hypothyroidism, in which the gland produces fewer hormones than it normally does, is most likely to be misdiagnosed.

6. Lyme Disease

We all know that tick bites cause Lyme disease, and the symptoms of the condition are also general knowledge: a rash shaped like a bullseye surrounding the point of infection. Except many people who have Lyme disease don't get the rash, and its other symptoms look just like the flu.

Blood work isn't much help either. While a blood test is the most conclusive diagnostic for Lyme disease, it's "fraught with problems," according to the Lyme Research Alliance.

The US Centers for Disease Control has even tried dissuade doctors from using the test, telling them to focus instead on a patient's symptoms and medical history. Even with that guidance in place, the average patient with Lyme disease will fight for 1.2 years before receiving the right diagnosis.

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Laurence P. Banville
Date Published: December 7, 2015
Laurence P. Banville is the managing partner of Banville Law. As an experienced personal injury attorney, Mr. Banville helps clients recover compensation from those responsible for his clients' injuries. Our firm is located in New York City, serving clients from the five boroughs: Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens, The Bronx, and Staten Island.
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