When you’re sick, you go to the doctor, trusting that they will know what’s wrong with you and how to make you well again. And, for the most part, that’s what many of us experience. Unfortunately, an estimated 20% of patients aren’t so lucky. Many receive a late or incorrect diagnosis, which can prove to be deadly.
Misdiagnoses are so common that The National Academy of Sciences estimates that everyone will receive at least one incorrect diagnosis in their lifetime. And the most incorrectly diagnosed conditions often have the deadliest consequences.
Here are three of the most commonly misdiagnosed medical conditions.
Cancer is the most deadly misdiagnosed condition, accounting for more than 37% of diagnostic errors that led to death or serious disability. While many cancers go misdiagnosed, including breast cancer, skin cancer, colorectal cancer and prostate cancer, the most deadly misdiagnosed cancer is lung cancer.
Lung cancer is so easily misdiagnosed because some of the early symptoms of the disease mimic common ailments, such as acid reflux, bronchitis, pneumonia, lymphoma, pulmonary embolism and lung abscesses. If you have been diagnosed with any of these conditions but aren’t getting better, you should seek a second opinion.
Vascular (blood vessel) ailments account for more than 22% of diagnostic errors that result in death or serious, permanent disability. The most deadly? Stroke. Also deadly and often misdiagnosed are blood clots, aortic aneurysm and heart attack.
Younger patients are more at risk for a stroke misdiagnosis than older patients because stroke is less common in the younger population, so doctors aren’t looking for it. When it is misdiagnosed in young people, a stroke is often mistaken for vertigo or alcohol intoxication.
Infections account for more than 13% of misdiagnoses that result in death and permanent disability. Sepsis, an infection of the blood, is the most common. However, other infections can also be misdiagnosed, such as pneumonia, spinal infection and meningitis.
Sepsis affects about 1.7 million adults in the U.S. every year and may contribute to 50% of all inpatient deaths, as reported by the Patient Safety network. It often goes undiagnosed because it moves faster than doctors can test for it. It can take up to 48 hours for blood cultures to test positive for sepsis. In some cases, tests never show a positive reading, even when sepsis is present. For this reason, sepsis is often misdiagnosed as organ failure, inflammatory disease and acute pancreatitis, among other conditions. The infection is even sometimes mistaken for an adverse drug reaction.
You may be wondering what you can do to protect yourself from an incorrect medical diagnosis. Effective communication plays an important role in preventing diagnostic errors. When you go to the doctor, be sure to talk about all of your symptoms, even if you don’t believe they’re related. If you feel as if you’re not being taken seriously or are not given the chance to communicate your concerns and ask questions, get a second opinion or ask to be reassigned to another doctor/team. Always keep all follow-up appointments and contact your doctor if any of your symptoms change or worsen. Remember, you play a vital role in the care you receive.
~Here’s to Your Healthy Pursuits!
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