Psychological Disorders: Crash Course Psychology #28
5 Tricky Health Conditions That Are Frequently Misdiagnosed
Diarrhea, unexpected weight loss, abdominal pain...sounds like irritable bowel syndrome, right? Maybe. But those symptoms could also indicate celiac disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis, hyperthyroidism, or even colon cancer.
While it's easy to diagnose some health conditions based on a list of symptoms or a diagnostic test, others are more difficult to pin down because they so closely mimic other diseases. This confusion can—and often does—lead doctors to misdiagnose patients.
OneBMJstudy estimates diagnostic errors affect about 1 out of every 20 people in the United States. In some cases, a misdiagnosis—and the mistreatment that follows—can lead to even more health problems down the road. Yikes!
Here are 5 of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions:
Actually: Sleep Apnea
Anyone who has ever pulled an all-nighter knows sleep deprivation means a crabbier you the next day. But for those with sleep apnea—who almost never get a good night's sleep—that bad mood can easily mimic symptoms of depression. In fact, one new study shows roughly 73% of patients with sleep apnea experience symptoms of depression—including self-harm and suicidal thoughts. But when patients in the study were treated for sleep apnea, all but a few lost their blues.
The symptoms of depression—mainly feelings of sadness or hopelessness, a lack of energy, and anxiety—are so common that many other conditions can also look like depression, including thyroid issues, bipolar disorder, vitamin D deficiency, and low blood sugar.
Actually: Celiac Disease
While it might seem simple to diagnose celiac disease—eating gluten-y things like bread or bagels triggers symptoms—celiac is an elusive disease that can take anywhere from 6 to 10 years to accurately diagnose. Part of the problem: The disease's list of symptoms can indicate just about any other gastrointestinal problem. And since there's no true test for irritable bowel syndrome, it tends to serve as a catchall until doctors correctly identify what's going on with your gut. The National Foundation for Celiac Awareness estimates 83% of Americans who have celiac disease are undiagnosed or have been misdiagnosed with other conditions.
If you're under the age of 50, heading to the hospital with limb numbness, difficulty speaking, and blurred vision can easily result in a diagnosis of migraine, vertigo, or even alcohol intoxication, according to research from the American Heart Association. When the researchers reviewed data on stroke patients ranging in age from 16 to 50, 14% had been sent home because doctors thought they had a headache or were a little too tipsy. "These patients did not get proper treatment due to misdiagnosis," study author Seemant Chaturvedi, MD, said in a statement. Part of the problem, Chaturvedi says, is that doctors in the emergency room don't expect a patient under 45 to have a stroke (although stroke can happen at any age).
Diagnosis: Rheumatoid Arthritis
About 52.5 million Americans have been diagnosed with arthritis, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. But painful, swollen joints also pop up in people who suffer from fibromyalgia, a disease characterized by shifting whole-body pain. Fibromyalgia is also often accompanied by headaches, sleepiness, and gut discomfort, according to the CDC.
If the pain seems to jump from one part of your body to another, has been around for at least 3 months, and can't be explained by any other condition, ask your doctor to consider if it could be fibromyalgia, the CDC advises.
MORE: 7 Reasons You're Tired All The Time
Diagnosis: Multiple Sclerosis
Actually: Lyme Disease
Fatigue, headaches, muscle and joint pain—all are symptoms of both multiple sclerosis and Lyme disease. Lyme disease shares symptoms with several other conditions as well (including fibromyalgia and the flu). In one study, 76% of women with Lyme disease showed symptoms that could be misconstrued as other health problems. Since doctors diagnose both MS and Lyme disease by ruling out other conditions that present similar symptoms, it's not difficult to mistake one for the other.
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