The Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions March 29, 2024.

The Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions

When you have a medical issue, you expect your doctor to correctly diagnose you based on your symptoms and test results. Unfortunately, this doesn't always happen. Doctors often diagnose patients with the wrong medical condition. Serious consequences can arise the longer symptoms go misdiagnosed.

Misdiagnosis: What Is It and How Often Does It Happen?

Misdiagnosis refers to when a doctor gives their patient the wrong diagnosis. Misdiagnosis is one of the most common forms of medical malpractice, even though it is preventable. In fact, researchers estimate that around 7.4 million Americans are misdiagnosed each year. Out of that, 795,000 Americans die or become disabled due to this negligence. With this staggering number, it is crucial that doctors correctly and timely diagnose their patients.

Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions

The most commonly misdiagnosed medical conditions are cancer, vascular events, and infections. These are referred to as the “Big 3”. The big 3 medical conditions make up 75% of misdiagnosis-related injuries or death. Continue reading to learn about the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions.

Cancer

Lung, prostate, breast, and skin cancer have the highest rate of misdiagnosis. Cancer is quickly overlooked if the doctor fails to order tests or overlooks early symptoms.

If cancer is detected earlier, there is usually a better prognosis for the patient. For instance, colon cancer has a 91% survival rate if it is detected early. However, the survival rate drastically drops to 11% if it is caught in the late stages.
The sad reality is that many people are not diagnosed with cancer until it has progressed. If doctors took the steps to completely rule out cancer, we believe that more patients would be diagnosed sooner.

Vascular events

A vascular event occurs when there is a sudden disruption in the blood vessels. This affects the flow of blood and oxygen to different parts of the body.

Stroke

A stroke occurs when there is reduced blood flow to the brain. When the brain does not receive sufficient blood and oxygen, the brain cells begin to die. Once these cells are damaged they can never be repaired. So, the prompt diagnosis of a stroke can stop permanent damage from happening.

Strokes have the highest rate of misdiagnosis out of all medical conditions. It is often mistaken as being an ear infection, migraine, or seizure. Researchers estimate that there are around 15,000- 165,000 misdiagnosed strokes that result in serious injury or death.

Many doctors believe that strokes usually only happen to older adults, but this is just not the case. This causes some doctors to completely ignore stroke symptoms and diagnose their patients with something else.

Heart Attack

A heart attack occurs when there is reduced or blocked blood flow to the heart. The rule with heart attacks is “time is muscle”. This means the longer the heart goes without enough blood, the more damage will be done.

When a patient comes in with heart attack symptoms and doesn't fit the “profile” of someone who is at high risk, this leads to misdiagnosis. Heart attacks are commonly misdiagnosed as heartburn or acid reflux.

Women who suffer a heart attack are misdiagnosed more regularly than men. The classic heart attack symptoms, like chest pain and shortness of breath, don't appear in all women.
Symptoms in women that differ from men include:

  1. Pain in the neck, jaw, back, and arm
  2. Nausea
  3. Lightheadedness
  4. Extreme Sleepiness

Younger people are also often misdiagnosed because, similar to strokes, the belief is that most heart attacks happen to individuals who are 40+ years old. However, the Cardio Metabolic Institute states that 1 in 5  heart attack patients are less than 40 years old.

Infections

Sepsis

Sepsis is a life-threatening medical emergency. Sepsis is not an infection itself, but it develops from an infection. When an infection develops, your body responds by trying to fight off the infection. In some cases, your immune system can have an extreme reaction, which creates inflammation throughout the body.

Extreme inflammation can cause organ failure and death if it is not diagnosed quickly. The longer it goes untreated, the more deadly it becomes. If sepsis progresses into septic shock, it can kill in as little as 12 hours.

Sepsis is often mistaken as a urinary tract infection or staph infection since they have similar symptoms. Despite the symptoms being similar, this does not take away the responsibility of doctors to correctly diagnose their patients.

Meningitis

Meningitis is an infection and inflammation of the fluid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord.  The World Health Organization states that meningitis can turn fatal in only 24 hours. So, prompt treatment needs to be given to stop the deadly effects. The symptoms of meningitis make it confused with other issues like asthma, anaphylaxis, alcohol withdrawal, the flu, and Crohn's disease- just to name a few.

Appendicitis

The appendix holds healthy gut bacteria in the digestive tract. But, when the appendix is inflamed, appendicitis can set in. Appendicitis can be caused by parasitic, bacterial, and viral infections. An inflamed appendix that goes untreated can burst, causing more severe problems. A burst appendix can be life-threatening if an infection develops afterward. The symptoms of appendicitis can mimic the flu, indigestion, or food poisoning.

Factors that Contribute to Misdiagnosis

Misdiagnosis can arise from several factors within the healthcare system. The biggest factors that contribute to misdiagnosis include:

  1. Many illnesses have similar symptoms
  2. Inexperienced or Unqualified Medical Professionals
  3. Misinterpretation of data
  4. Medical records errors

Many Illnesses Have Similar Symptoms

One of the biggest factors that lead to misdiagnosis is that many illnesses have similar symptoms. However, with correct testing doctors can rule out every issue with similar symptoms before diagnosing their patients.

Inexperienced or Unqualified Medical Professionals

Misdiagnosis also occurs when there are inexperienced or unqualified medical professionals on staff. We saw the impact of unqualified doctors trying to diagnose patients in a recent case we took to court.

Our client went to the nearest emergency room when he began having chest pain, shortness of breath, and numbness in his arm- all signs of a heart attack. However, the doctor in the emergency room was not an emergency medical doctor. Instead, she was a family practice doctor, and there were no cardiologists on staff.

The doctor continued to insist he was not having a heart attack, though he continued to have extreme chest pain. Our client was kept in the ER for 5.5 hours, without heart attack treatment. The worst part is that a nearby emergency room, only 20 minutes away, had all of the capabilities and facilities to treat heart attacks.

Upon performing an electrocardiogram (EKG), it showed that his heart attack progressed, which caused permanent damage. Fortunately, our client survived, due to his good health and age. However, he is now in heart failure and will need a heart transplant within the next few years. But, this outcome doesn't always happen in misdiagnosis cases.

Misinterpretation of Data

If test data is misinterpreted, it can also lead to big problems. This was also seen in the case we had mentioned in the previous paragraph. The doctor had performed EKGs on our patient, and it showed he was having a heart attack. But, the doctor misinterpreted the EKG multiple times, which led to the heart attack not being treated until hours later.

Medical Record Errors

Medical record errors occur more often than you may think. Patients who found discrepancies in their records reported inaccuracies like incorrect previous diagnoses, test results, or medications used. Errors like this can cause crucial information to be overlooked.

We encourage everyone to review their medical records to make sure that all of the information is correct. It is very easy to access your medical records if your provider uses an electronic medical record system.

Contact Our Cleveland Misdiagnosis Attorneys

If your loved one’s misdiagnosis led to severe injury or death, you may be able to file a misdiagnosis lawsuit. During a misdiagnosis lawsuit, you need someone on your side to support your family and assist with your case. We assist our clients by gathering evidence and smoothly proceeding through the legal process, so the victim can focus on healing.

Contact our Cleveland office today, to schedule an initial free consultation. Dial (440) 333-3800 or fill out an online contact form and we will reach out to you as soon as possible.