CNN had an interesting, albeit concerning, article regarding misdiagnoses – which apparently happen all too often.
As a hypochondriac, you are probably used to being told “Don’t worry, there’s nothing seriously wrong with you.” But if you are really worried about symptoms you are having, don’t take no for an answer. Your doctor could be missing something. If the doctor you are currently going to doesn’t listen to your symptoms or take them seriously, go somewhere else.
By the same token, you may be all too ready to believe it if a doctor tells you that you have a serious illness. But if something tells you that it’s not likely that you have whatever it is he or she has diagnosed, then again, seek another opinion.
You are the best judge of how you feel; if there is something about your health that is making you uneasy, don’t rest until you figure it out.
This article has some alarming case studies. How would you like being told you had a rare form of lymphoma, but it turned out to be a benign fatty tumor?
The article has some good advice for all of us to follow when it comes to diagnoses, including the following recommendations (my comments in blue):
Here, from from medical experts, are some red flags -- five reasons for suspecting your doctor might have made the wrong diagnosis.
1. You don't get better with treatment
Sometimes doctors stick to a diagnosis even when multiple treatments aren't working.
As vice president for loss prevention and patient safety at Harvard's Risk Management Foundation, Bob Hanscom remembers one particular lawsuit against Harvard doctors.
A young woman complained of stomach and chest pain. Her doctor prescribed a medicine for gastric reflux. When it didn't work, a second doctor prescribed another drug for gastric reflux. It also didn't work. The woman ended up in the emergency room with acute pancreatitis, which eventually caused kidney failure.
She survived but will be on dialysis the rest of her life.
So, if your doctor has prescribed something for you that usually works on a condition within a certain amount of time, be sure to do some research on your symptoms and see if they could be caused by something else, and bring this to the doctor’s attention rather than blindly continuing to accept medications for the same condition as you continue farther down the wrong diagnostic path.
2. Your symptoms don't match your diagnosis
This is where the Internet comes in. You don't have to be a medical professional to Google your diagnosis.
For example, let's say a doctor diagnoses you with tendinitis. Looking it up, you can find out it usually lasts about six to 12 weeks, according to Dr. Saul Weingart, an internist and vice president for patient safety at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts.
If you're still in pain beyond that time, the doctor may have made the wrong diagnosis.
By the same token, if you Google your symptoms and find they don’t really match what has been diagnosed, but are a closer match with something else, again, bring it to your doctor’s attention. If you have the right doctor, he or she will not be offended by your suggestions or your research. If they are, then find another doctor.
3. Your diagnosis is based purely on a lab test
The reality is that labs make mistakes. In Torrey's case, she says two labs made mistakes. When lab results are the sole criteria for a diagnosis, that can be a red flag, says Torrey, who works as a patient advocate. Another red flag is when a diagnosis of a rare disease comes from a lab that doesn't specialize in that disease, Weingart says.
Recently my husband and I had our annual blood tests, which required fasting beforehand. When we got our results back, we found that the lab had mislabeled our condition as being non-fasting, so all of the comparison ranges were for non-fasting values. This could have resulted in our cholesterol and blood sugar readings being incorrectly diagnosed as being normal when they may have been too high. (Luckily that was not the case when we checked into it).
Other tests can also be mixed up. I once had a misdiagnosis of severe heart failure based on a routine EKG that was run in my doctor’s office when I had complained of occasional palpitations. The doctor called me and told me he wanted me to take it easy over the weekend and not do anything strenuous, and that he’d want to put me in the hospital for tests on Monday. He later called back and apologized, saying my EKG had gotten mixed up with that of an elderly patient with an aortic aneurysm.
Again, this was an example of symptoms not matching the condition. Other than my minor palpitations (which turned out to be nothing to worry about), I had no symptoms of heart failure that would have matched the sobering diagnosis suggested by the EKG. Luckily my doctor was equally puzzled by this discrepancy, which made him double check the results – but not soon enough to avoid scaring the bejeesus out of me and my husband!
4. Your doctor attributes common complaints to an uncommon ailment
Torrey says her doctor said her night sweats and hot flashes were caused by the extremely rare lymphoma. Actually, they were signs of menopause.
Can you imagine? Quite a big mistake there!
Obviously this doctor did not remember the old adage that is told to medical students: “If you hear hoof beats, think horses, not zebras.”
5. Your diagnosis usually involves a test you never received
This is where the Internet comes in handy again. If you find out a specific test can determine the diagnosis you've been given, but you were never given that test, that's a reason to head back to the doctor's office armed with questions.
Another thing to be wary of is going by the results of just one test, if a disease or condition is more accurately diagnosed with more than one. Lyme disease is a good example; a simple antibody test might show up positive, but a more extensive type of test is needed to more definitively diagnose the disease. And even then there is potential for misdiagnosis.
So there you have it. While you shouldn't go by the motto of the old X-Files TV show, "Trust no one," at least follow the other old adage, "Trust, but verify."