Why Are So Many Health Conditions Still Misdiagnosed?

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While today’s world of modern medicine has helped so many people deal with illnesses, medical conditions and other health ailments, there are plenty of people who have not or never will get to experience life without a medical problem. Sometimes it is because a condition is not curable but in other, not so fortunate cases it is because of a misdiagnosis.

That’s right. A medical expert or professional misdiagnosing symptoms can lead to even worse health conditions for a patient. Sometimes it can lead to unnecessary treatments or even surgery.

Take Jennifer Rufer, a patient who was misdiagnosed with cancer at the age of 22 and underwent “debilitating chemotherapy and a hysterectomy that she did not need,” reads an ABC News article.

story begins with a trip to a doctor due to irregular bleeding. After taking a blood sample for the Axsym BHCG routine pregnancy test, results came back saying Rufer was pregnant. The problem was that Rufer’s doctor was unable to find a fetus. Additional pregnancy tests were done and returned positive, still without any signs of pregnancy.

This was a bad sign because without a fetus and with high levels of beta human chorionic gonadotropin (HCG), all signs point to a rare form of cancer known as gestational trophoblastic tumor. This form of cancer is known to spread quickly and can result in death if left untreated. On the other hand, if treated early with chemotherapy, it is know to be highly curable.

Rufer then went to a cancer specialist for more tests. Still without sign of a tumor or pregnancy, her high levels of HCG led doctors to diagnose her with cancer. She then began chemotherapy immediately.

After months of continued chemotherapy, her HCG levels still remained alarmingly high. The next suggestion was to have a hysterectomy, something Rufer did not want to to do at first but eventually had done since it meant staying alive.

After the hysterectomy, her HCG levels dropped but then went back up. There was also no evidence of cancer in her tissue samples from the hysterectomy. Doctors eventually found two suspicious spots on Rufer’s lung scan and she underwent additional surgery. But alas, no cancer was found and her HCG levels were still high.

The worst was yet to come through. They soon discovered that Rufer never had cancer and the “test was faulty from the beginning.” It was a false positive from the original pregnancy test that began the journey to possible cancer, actual chemotherapy and multiple surgeries. Now, Rufer is left with a much different future than before — all because of a misdiagnosis.

This story is a perfect example of why so many health conditions are still misdiagnosed today. It encompasses many reasons behind a misdiagnosis. An article from AARP narrowed down these reasons to three main ones: “mistakes in how doctors think, over-reliance on specialists and medical testing, and the human body itself, which can experience a multitude of ailments but has limited ways to communicate those ailments.”

When it comes to how doctors think, it can be traced back to their schooling and how they are taught. Doctors are trained to go with what is most common first. This means that if they meet a patient who has all the regular symptoms of a common cold, then diagnose them with a common cold. This way of thinking works until a patient shows up with the regular symptoms of a common cold but does not have a common cold. It would not be until later on down the road when the ailment does not go away that thoughts about a different diagnosis would come to fruition.

It can also work where a patient may have the majority of symptoms of a condition except for one or two, like the common age for which people usually develop a certain disease or condition. Doctors or other medical professionals might believe it is something completely different because of that variable or two, when in reality it is what they commonly believe it to be, just in someone of an unusual age.

As was the case with Rufer, over-reliance on specialists and medical testing can also lead to misdiagnosis. The doctors relied so much on the pregnancy test’s accuracy, that continue results of positive with high levels of HCG and no actual fetus had to mean it was cancer.

Even after going to a specialist, and without finding an actual tumor, it was still believed to be cancer. Undergoing surgery and losing the ability to birth a child ended up a traumatic consequence of the original misdiagnosis.

The third reason behind continued misdiagnoses can actually be the patient’s body and genetic makeup. The AARP article touched on how DNA analysis has been leading to continued discoveries of disease-associated genes or mutations.

Basically, this means that a person’s genetic makeup can be an underlying reason why diseases may be occurring in someone or even a family that share similar symptoms and DNA. Utilizing human-genome sequencing techniques has been helping in identifying new diseases, says the article.

Unfortunately, like most things in the medical field, everything is always evolving. Doctors and specialists are discovering more and more diseases and with those come symptoms. These symptoms can be shared with other diseases or conditions — just another variable that can lead to misdiagnosis.

As stated earlier, the human body can only show that it is ailing in so many different ways despite there being seemingly an infinite amount of ailments it can be experiencing. As a patient, it is important to do your own research about what you may or may not have been diagnosed with by your doctor or medical professional.

You should not be afraid to ask questions and you should not be afraid to open a discussion with your doctor about the research you have done and the things you have learned. There are even stories out there of patients who were able to avoid a misdiagnosis like cancer by actively researching their symptoms and seeking second opinions from other doctors and medical professionals.

It is difficult to go against the words of your doctor or medical professional but it does not hurt to be careful. Be involved in your health and well being and learn from others who have had the unfortunate circumstances of dealing with a misdiagnosis.

AUTHOR: Jason Matzus

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer. For specific technical or legal advice on the information provided and related topics, please contact the author.

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