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What Diseases and Illnesses Are Commonly Misdiagnosed?

April 8, 2024

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One of the most important aspects of being a doctor is accurately diagnosing patients with the diseases or illnesses they suffer from. Accurately diagnosing patients gives doctors a chance to come up with treatment plans to manage their patients’ symptoms and help them get better, including prescribing medications, recommending surgery, and creating lifestyle modifications.

However, diagnosing diseases and illnesses isn’t an exact science, and sometimes, doctors make mistakes. According to a 2019 study, doctors and residents working individually only diagnose patients accurately around 62.5% of the time. That means roughly four in ten patients may receive the wrong diagnosis.

Incorrect diagnosis can be due to many factors, but when it’s due to negligence, doctors can be held liable for medical malpractice.

Here are some of the most commonly misdiagnosed diseases and illnesses:

  • Lupus: Lupus is an autoimmune disease that can affect various parts of the body, including the skin, joints, kidneys, brain, and other organs. Its symptoms often mimic those of other diseases, making it hard to diagnose.
  • Lyme Disease: Caused by tick bites, Lyme disease’s early symptoms can resemble the flu, and if not treated early, it can lead to more serious complications that mimic other conditions.
  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS): MS is a disease in which the immune system eats away at the protective covering of nerves. Its symptoms can be very varied and mimic those of other diseases, making early diagnosis difficult.
  • Celiac Disease: This is an autoimmune disorder where ingestion of gluten leads to damage in the small intestine. Its symptoms can be very general, such as diarrhea and abdominal pain, leading to its confusion with other digestive disorders.
  • Thyroid Disorders: Both hypothyroidism and hyperthyroidism can be difficult to diagnose as their symptoms can be broad and nonspecific, such as weight changes, mood swings, and fatigue, which can be attributed to other causes.
  • Parkinson's Disease: Parkinson’s disease is a progressive nervous system disorder that affects movement. Its early symptoms are subtle and occur gradually, which can lead to misdiagnosis.
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS): CFS is a disorder characterized by extreme fatigue that can't be explained by any underlying medical condition. The fatigue worsens with physical or mental activity but doesn't improve with rest, which is a symptom shared by many other conditions.
  • Cancer: According to Cancer Research UK, there are more than 200 types of cancer. Their symptoms can be misdiagnosed as being other less severe health problems. In some cases, certain types of aggressive cancer may even be confused for other, less aggressive types of cancer.

These diseases and illnesses often require a combination of tests, patient history review, and sometimes the elimination of other possible conditions to reach a correct diagnosis. Misdiagnosis can lead to delays in appropriate treatment, which can lead to worsening of health.

What Are the Consequences of Misdiagnosing a Disease or Illness?

Misdiagnosing an illness or disease can have a range of long-term consequences, affecting the patient's health, emotional well-being, and financial situation. The impact of a misdiagnosis varies depending on the nature of the misdiagnosis, the disease involved, and the individual patient.

Some of the major consequences of misdiagnosing a disease or illness include:

  • Inappropriate Treatment: Patients may receive treatment for a condition they do not have, which can lead to unnecessary side effects and complications from medications or procedures that are not needed.
  • Delayed Treatment: When the correct diagnosis is missed or delayed, the patient does not receive timely treatment for their actual condition. This can lead to disease progression, potentially resulting in irreversible damage, complications, or even a diminished chance of survival in serious conditions like cancer or heart disease.
  • Physical Harm: Some misdiagnoses can lead to physical harm, especially if invasive procedures or harmful treatments are undertaken based on the incorrect diagnosis. For example, unnecessary surgery can lead to complications, infections, or other adverse effects.
  • Worsening of the Actual Condition: Without proper treatment, the correctly diagnosed condition may worsen. This can lead to a decline in the patient's quality of life and potentially limit the effectiveness of treatment options when the correct diagnosis is finally made.

How Does Negligence Lead to Doctors Misdiagnosing Patients?

Negligence by healthcare professionals can lead to the misdiagnosis of patients through various mechanisms. Negligence in a medical context typically refers to a failure to provide the standard of care that a reasonably competent healthcare professional would provide under similar circumstances. This can manifest in several ways:

  • Failure to Take a Proper Patient History: A thorough patient history is crucial for diagnosis. Neglecting to take a comprehensive history, or failing to pay attention to the patient's reported symptoms, can lead to overlooking key information necessary for accurate diagnosis.
  • Incomplete Physical Examination: Skipping or improperly conducting a physical examination can result in missing clinical signs that would guide the diagnostic process. Physical signs can provide critical clues to a patient's condition.
  • Ignoring Patient Concerns and Symptoms: Patients often provide valuable information about their conditions through their symptoms. Dismissing patient complaints or concerns without proper consideration can lead to a misdiagnosis.
  • Failure to Order Appropriate Diagnostic Tests: Neglecting to order necessary tests based on the patient's symptoms and history can result in missing important data needed for an accurate diagnosis. In addition, ordering unnecessary tests can lead to confusion and misinterpretation.
  • Misinterpretation of Test Results: Misreading or disregarding the results of diagnostic tests can lead to incorrect conclusions. This might happen due to a lack of expertise, oversight, or simply not spending enough time reviewing the results.

Doctors may be negligent for many reasons, including them or the hospitals and clinics they work for booking too many patients in a given day. When doctors are rushed and can only spend a few minutes with each patient, they may not have enough time to fully investigate the patient’s health problems before moving onto the next exam room.

Our Ohio Medical Malpractice Lawyers Can Help if You Were Misdiagnosed

It’s devastating to find out you or a loved one were misdiagnosed by your doctor—especially if a correct diagnosis when you first sought treatment could have made a big difference in your health and the treatment of your disease or illness.

In addition to the psychological impact, there’s also often a big physical and financial impact. Your health may be much worse now than it was, your medical bills may have grown significantly, and you may be out of work for the foreseeable future.

At Nurenberg, Paris, Heller & McCarthy, our Ohio medical malpractice attorneys understand the devastating consequences of misdiagnosis, and we believe it’s unacceptable, especially when it happens due to negligence. Contact us today for a free case review. We’ll work hard to find out what happened and fight to get you the compensation you deserve.

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