Home Biology The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
Biology By Joe Burgett -

Medical professionals such as surgeons and doctors are often excellent at their job. However, they are still human beings, and therefore, they can make mistakes. This might just be something random, like missing something on an x-ray. Yet it could also be an issue where they are a victim of the time they lived in. Either way, some of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions are often easy to mistake. Others, however, should not be messed up as easily.

What tends to happen is that a doctor might not see something very often and therefore does not know it well. For example, your average family medicine doctor is going to have a broad medical understanding. Yet we have specialists in specific areas that know areas of the body much more as it’s literally their job to know it. Thus, they might know more than your family medicine doc. However, even they make mistakes. We felt due to this, it would be good to discuss the most misdiagnosed medical conditions in history. Where we’ll explain how they were missed, as well as what docs assumed they were.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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While one would assume missing appendicitis would be pretty difficult, it can happen. However, when doctors miss it, one could conclude that it is not truly their fault. Most who have appendicitis often do not know they have it. Yet most doctors can usually tell because the person will complain of pain in their lower right abdomen. Yet some have an appendix that points backward rather than forward.

This means their symptoms will end up being different, where they present pain elsewhere. Possibly in the bowels, but also in the upper abdomen in an area like the stomach. You could easily see how a doctor checking these areas might not assume it is an appendix problem. The real issue is that once the appendix bursts, their pain will be relieved. Therefore, some assume they are fine. However, this rupture is a life-threatening condition that can kill the person within 24 hours if not treated.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Parkinson’s Disease

Parkinson’s disease is sadly missed by many doctors initially. It makes sense, as it is certainly not a go-to condition that most medical professionals are going to consider. As many as 30% of all cases of this disease are missed, which is a pretty large number. Of course, Parkinson’s will be a life-long disease that will slowly progress and get worse. Most who deal with it will have stiffness issues, as well as unsteadiness and trembling. Naturally, this type of stuff can mirror other problems. In fact, it can closely relate to several neurological degenerative problems.

It is important to remember that we have been learning so much about this disease over the years. Medication is available now to help people deal with the symptoms, making it easier for people to live a close to normal life. Michael J. Fox, perhaps the most famous person with the disease, claimed he should have been fully disabled by now. Yet he still works often, goes to the store, and much more. Yet this is still one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions today, making it important to always get a second opinion if you’re unsure of a diagnosis.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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For those unaware of what endometriosis is, it happens to be a gynecological condition. The condition causes a woman’s endometrium (tissue that grows inside the uterus) to grow on the outside of their uterus. This can mean a woman’s ovaries, fallopian tubes, and tissue lining for the pelvis are all usually involved in this. Naturally, this is not a normal thing and is pretty rare for a woman to experience. The body was not made for such a thing, so the condition usually causes a woman to be in a lot of pain.

This means that the uterus tissue and materials can actually grow throughout the abdomen. You can easily see why there is so much pain involved. How could doctors possibly miss this? Many actually assume at first that the problem is just an unusually heavy period. Since periods involve cramping in the abdomen, the abdominal pain is not seen as abnormal either. This is likely why endometriosis is one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions. An ultrasound and laparoscopy test can confirm if you have it, which seems almost too simple.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Inflammatory Bowel Disease

Inflammatory Bowel Disease or IBD is a very difficult issue to deal with. The real struggle with this disease, and why it is one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions, is pretty much due to a similar issue. Irritable Bowel Syndrome or IBS is a much more popular condition that affects the bowels too. Both are gastrointestinal issues but they differ in some distinct ways. IBS is merely a disorder of your gastrointestinal tract and could even have various causes. Importantly, IBS is usually a symptom of something else and not a disease itself.

IBD, on the other hand, is a disease. IBD causes the inflammation or destruction of the bowel wall. It can even lead to painful sores or narrowing in the intestines. Usually, one will only have IBD if they also have an autoimmune disorder like Crohn’s Disease or Ulcerative Colitis. Yet it can occur without this too. It is just that both of those diseases caused inflammation of the intestines and bowels. While abdominal pain is the main issue with IBD, yet one could also deal with painful diarrhea and nausea. This often causes people to eat less or change their diet in a major way. Usually to avoid the pain caused by this disease.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Cluster Headaches

Cluster headaches are incredibly painful and difficult to deal with. Those who have them have claimed they can come out of nowhere and it can feel like you’re just being shot in the head over and over. They do not work like regular headaches. Rather, they occur in cluster periods. Often, this is unpredictable and can wake you out of a deep sleep at night. Usually, they cause intense pain in or around one eye and/or one side of your head.

Normal headaches you could potentially get sleep and wake up to have. Also, most headaches tend to be caused by inflammation in the neck. Not cluster headaches, however. They might only last a few minutes but some can last to around three hours. The reason they are one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions might very well be due to the fact that they are headaches. Some assume it is a migraine issue while others might blame your sinuses. If you think you are having cluster headaches, it is best to visit a doctor that specializes in headaches. They can properly evaluate you to be sure.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Thyroid Conditions

Thyroid conditions are perhaps the most overdiagnosed and misdiagnosed medical issues. To be fair to doctors, knowing if the thyroid is in a bad place can be difficult. Your thyroid happens to be a gland that is found in the neck. It rests between where your neck meets your chest and wraps around your esophagus. It is an incredibly important part of our body as it distributes hormones we crucially need for numerous bodily functions. You could have several conditions related to the thyroid. Things like hypothyroidism, which can be overactive or underactive, can cause various symptoms.

“Underactive” can cause you to deal with fatigue and weight gain while “overactive” causes weight loss along with irritability and a fast heartbeat. The issue is that thyroid problems can be misdiagnosed. Perhaps you were sick or went on a diet that changed your weight. If you do this, it changes your hormones too. Thus, your bloodwork might show that a thyroid problem is present when that is not the case. That means you have to wait for a bit to confirm that. This obviously puts people in a weird spot where hormones might be off for a bit, but they do not have any true thyroid issue… or they could. Difficult stuff, this.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Aortic Dissection

Your aorta is a pretty important part of the body. It is the body’s main artery, as it carries blood away from the heart to the rest of the body. When it’s not working properly, your body is also going to be affected overall. There are times when something known as an aortic dissection takes place. This is a tear in the inner layer of the aorta. When this happens, blood will rush through the tear, thus causing the inner and middle layers of the aorta to split.

Naturally, if the blood ends up rushing through the outside aortic wall, it could end up killing you. This sounds like it could be a pretty obvious thing to search for, so how is it one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions? Somehow, it is missed in around 38% of those who are dealing with it. The assumption initially is that it’s a heart attack. While cardiologists may be able to spot the issue, many might go to the emergency room where they’d likely not assume such an issue. This is why you need to do an x-ray or CT scan to be sure

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Lyme Disease

For most, Lyme Disease is really odd. A lot of people do not know how a person even catches it. To be fair, it is pretty uncommon today for most people in developed nations. They used to be a huge issue before the early 1900s. Lyme Disease is spread by tick bites, as they can secrete a bacterium that develops into the disease. The most common symptoms of this disease are fatigue, headaches, and a fever. You might even develop a rash at the site of the tick bite.

You could see how commonplace this type of thing might be for sure. This is why it makes a lot of sense that this is one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions. How does one treat Lyme Disease? Antibiotics. Seriously, that is it. But before you treat a person with antibiotics, you need to have a solid reason to do so. After all, it is unlikely you’ll see a Lyme Disease patient as a doctor in most family medicine situations. This is why it is always good to get bloodwork so you at least rule stuff out first.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Not only is ADHD one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions, but it’s also the most overdiagnosed. How can that be though? Many parents and potentially even teachers do not know how to deal with a hyper child. Due to this, kids as young as five years old will be diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. However, they may not have it at all. A young child is traditionally going to be hyper and a lot to deal with. You cannot truly know they are ADHD until later on.

This means doctors might put children on stimulants, which could actually affect the young child’s brain negatively. Sure, it might calm them down a bit – but that’s a horrible compromise. A child might have other brain disorders that are being ignored, which can present in similar ways. People assume a lack of focus or being in your own little world sometimes is exclusive to ADHD people. Yet that cannot be further from the truth. In fact, it could be that a child is just being a child too.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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A stroke is an incredibly dangerous, life-threatening condition. People not only need to be seen by a doctor immediately, but every second truly counts here. Many stroke victims can avoid life-altering issues if they are seen within a few hours of the stroke taking place. Many assume a stroke is just like a heart attack, which is neither wrong nor completely true. They can appear to be very similar. Yet a stroke happens when the blood supply to your brain is blocked or interrupted. This cuts off needed oxygen and nutrients, and your brain cells will begin to die off in minutes.

Since this blood comes from the heart, there could be a blockage that is affecting both of them. Thus, why they can appear like a heart attack. A common issue for most stroke victims is the appearance of snoring when they are not doing that at all. As many as 10% of all strokes are misdiagnosed in emergency rooms across the United States. This seems to happen a lot more to younger people and women, with some doctors assuming the issue is a migraine or even vertigo. Always remember FAST: facial drooping, arm weakness, or speech difficulties always means it’s time to call 911. This could literally save a life.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Perhaps one of the single hardest medical conditions to diagnose, fibromyalgia is known as a disease that causes “invisible pain.” Not that the pain is not real, but that you cannot see why it exists on any scan. On top of this, it can be hard to tell with bloodwork too. The assumption is that the pain someone is dealing with might be, after ruling out things like breaks or fractures, something like rheumatoid arthritis. To test for this, bloodwork will be done to check your “RA Factor.”

For many with Fibro, it can come back positive one day, yet negative the next. Secondary testing might result in the same issue too. This is why it takes many years for people with fibromyalgia to even know they have it. Even if they suggest it to their doctor, most medical professionals still want to rule out other things first. That is why it is one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions known. People live with this pain for several years, and we need to be better about diagnosing this.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar Disorder is potentially the most misdiagnosed psychological disorder. First, some doctors assume a person has it when they have something incredibly different. Yet more often than not, doctors will assume something else other than bipolar disorder. The issue is that bipolar disorder has symptoms that can mimic those from other diseases. Usually, those who have it will have extreme mood swings, which could include emotional highs and very big lows.

There is a reason we once called it “manic depression.” Being bipolar can make someone appear crazy when they aren’t. Yet it is often misdiagnosed, with some doctors assuming random problems like autoimmune disorders and even HIV at times. More common stuff might be ADHD or standard depression, which can at least make more sense. Nearly 70% of all bipolar people are misdiagnosed initially. As many as one-third of those people will remain misdiagnosed for up to a decade or longer!

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Celiac Disease

Another addition to the understandable miss list, Celiac Disease is an autoimmune condition that causes the body to attack its small intestine. This happens as a response to gluten within wheat products. Doctors will never assume this condition immediately because it is simply not very common to see. While completely understandable, the University of Chicago has found as many as 97% of people with celiac disease are misdiagnosed.

Becoming one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions like this is not shocking. Assuming someone has an issue with gluten can only be found through first testing numerous other things first. You’ll finally end up there. How do people find out that they have it? Typically, a blood test can be done to test for specific antibodies. If those are present, that can mean you have the disease. Now, all you need to do is have a gluten-free diet for the rest of your life. Pretty easy, right? Wrong! You might be surprised just how much stuff has some form of gluten in it.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Multiple Sclerosis

Truly, this might be misdiagnosed because doctors simply do not want to believe a person has this condition. Multiple Sclerosis is a terrible disorder. Your body quite literally is destroying itself. Essentially, your immune system will begin to eat away at all your nerve’s protective coverings. Nerve damage will begin, and communication between the brain and body will be disrupted. You might see several symptoms at first such as pain and fatigue, but then you might also have coordination issues too. MS is degenerative, and a person will slowly begin to develop numerous issues.

While we now have medication to help slow the progression of this terrible disease, it is not perfect. Time is also of the essence to diagnose it. Yet 1 in 5 MS patients are misdiagnosed. While many doctors will believe it is an autoimmune disorder due to test results, this is not the case. Yet some doctors are way off, assuming the person just has migraines or basic nerve damage, even a vitamin B-12 deficiency. While this is one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions, we also have to be slightly understanding. Doctors will rarely jump to assume a person has MS. Plus, incorrect treatment for it is quite dangerous.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Polycystic Ovary Syndrome

Most know about the pain that comes with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, but it is likely you are unaware of how often it is missed by doctors. It might sound crazy that one could miss this, as the condition literally means cysts are growing on a woman’s ovaries. Not only does this lead to infertility for the women who have them, but it is pretty painful. A scan could literally prove they are present but it is unlikely a doctor will think to do this right away. Most of the time, a doctor like a gynecologist will do an examination of the vagina and even get some bloodwork. These tests/exams do not often prove a woman has PCOS.

Roughly 18% of women are misdiagnosed. A study published in March 2019 proved this and even found that nearly half of all women with PCOS visited three or more doctors before getting this diagnosis, which took several around 2 years to do. Being one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions makes sense here because PCOS is relatively rare. However, symptoms can often give doctors a reason to confirm if cysts are present. If you see something like excess hair growth, unexplained weight gain, abnormal mood changes, and obviously fertility issues, you could have it.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Thoracic Outlet Syndrome

It is possible that you may have never even heard of thoracic outlet syndrome, and most would not blame you for that. In fact, outside a medical student or doctor (or random writer), the only people who know of it are those who have had it. This syndrome affects the space between your collarbone and first rib, known as the thoracic outlet. There could be many causes for it, including but not limited to pregnancy, repeat injuries to the ribs, anatomical defects, and much more.

Those with it will experience a good bit of pain in the shoulders and neck. Yet one might also experience random numbness and weakness in these areas or other parts of the body. Surgery is sometimes needed to relieve compression, but most treatments will be basic pain relievers or physical therapy. As one could assume, it is unlikely a doctor will assume this right away, especially a family medicine doctor. Usually, the way to find out if one has it will be by ruling out pretty much everything else first. Scans can sometimes show things too, as well as nerve conduction studies.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Those with chronic or even occasional migraine problems will likely have stories about how their doctor did not exactly take these migraines seriously. While the medical world is getting a lot better in this area, that was not always the case. To be fair, headaches can have several root causes. Most headaches begin as a result of neck problems so that among other musculoskeletal issues could be a reason. Sinus problems can also cause headaches along with fevers and other sicknesses.

Even not eating enough or drinking enough fluids can cause headaches too. Stress, eye problems, depression, and much more could also be involved here. As you can tell, assuming something is simply a migraine is not an easy diagnosis. Thus, why migraines are one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions on the planet. Migraines are headaches that throb or pulse, and are isolated to one part of the head. Full neurological exams, even scans, can prove one has migraine problems.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Carpal Tunnel Syndrome

While one would assume that something like carpal tunnel syndrome could be easily diagnosed, that is not true at all. Why is that? A lot of the time, unless something is broken or fractured, assuming carpal tunnel is the diagnosis can be hard. This is likely due to all the problems that come with it. For example, many will report tingling, burning pain, especially at the thumb, index, middle, and ring fingers. Sometimes, occasional shock-like sensations will hit there too. Yet a lot of people also have pain or tingling that can travel up to the shoulder.

Doctors would naturally assume you have a shoulder and even forearm problem initially. In total, carpal tunnel is misdiagnosed as much as 83% of the time according to the National Institutes of Health. Doctors might assume after scans come back to rule out the shoulder and forearm, you could have a wrist issue. Yet that might not be carpal tunnel, but rather, something like wrist flexor tendinitis. This is far more common, and treatment for it can be quite similar to carpal tunnel treatments. Yet those with severe cases will need to likely have surgery. Thus, this treatment won’t be as effective.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Heart Attacks

One would assume that any doctor could tell when a person is having a heart attack or had one. Yet this is based on assumed issues surrounding the human heart and heart attacks. Most symptoms of a heart attack could be misidentified as something mild, like indigestion, acid reflux, or even a panic attack. Chest pain also has several possible causes such as back problems, lung issues, and much more. Some people do not even report the classically assumed heart attack problems. Men tend to show more common heart attack problems, like chest palpitations, arm pain, stomach pain, nausea, etc.

Yet women may not show any of these. Comparing men and women when seeing doctors who did not find their pain to be heart-related when it was, 37% of men were misdiagnosed while 53% of women were. This could be due to women often reporting things like tooth or jaw pain, even shoulder or back problems. We now know discomfort in areas away from the chest can be heart-related, causing issues like this to improve. For now, though, heart attacks are one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Chronic Fatigue Syndrome

Truly, this has to be one of the most difficult conditions for any doctor to diagnose. We all get tired, and pretty much any sickness or long-term disorder can cause people to feel like they are fatigued all the time. For doctors to diagnose this, they have to likely rule out a ton of things. Thus, this is easily one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions in the world. Those who show fatigue for over six months, with sleep never improving the problem, likely have it.

Yet feeling tired isn’t the only problem. You could also experience sleep problems and pain. When the body feels tired, it tends to feel pain it otherwise would not. While women seem to deal with this far more than men, there is no root cause for it. Some psychologists have assumed that environmental factors could be to blame. Yet medical doctors often feel there is a genetic component. Things like fibromyalgia can mirror CFS, among other conditions. Therefore, it can take quite a while to diagnose people with it. This could be why as many as 90% are misdiagnosed who have it.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Rheumatoid Arthritis

Anyone currently dealing with rheumatoid arthritis will likely tell you how long it took for them to finally be diagnosed. It is technically an autoimmune disorder but operates a bit differently compared to others. Like them, the body seems to misunderstand what is going on inside of it. Thus, the immune system will attack its own tissue and joints. In some of the worst cases, RA will even attack internal organs. People with RA will have painful swelling, as it affects the joint linings. Long-term, the inflammation caused by RA will cause bone erosion and even deformity of the joints.

Medication exists to help those with RA manage the symptoms, but there is no cure as of this writing. A lot of doctors misdiagnose it for other issues like fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, simple arthritis, and much more. In a study conducted using data from the Columbia Medical Center regarding 4,780 patients, 1,875 were misdiagnosed. This is just shy of 40% of those patients. Among them, 26.5% were men while 73.5% were women. This proves RA seems to be harder to diagnose among women. Regardless of who, it is clearly one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions currently.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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To be fair to doctors, properly diagnosing depression is far better than it used to be. We now know more signs of chronic depression, and we can even do bloodwork to check for problems related to depression. Seratonin levels tend to be low among most with regular, chronic depression. Yet that is not uniform, as some might have it without this. On top of that, most doctors (even in family medicine) do not tend to ask about a person’s mood when they come in for a visit.

Without this knowledge, doctors could be missing something quite important. On top of this, physical problems can come from depression, such as fatigue, headaches, bodily pain, as well as stuff like loss of appetite. Some might also have stress or anxiety issues, making doctors erroneously assume these are the prime issues and not depression. Plus, there are various levels of depression that are not always easy to identify. Thankfully, errors like this are being fixed in the medical community.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Pulmonary Embolism

A pulmonary embolism is a blood clot that gets lodged within one or both lungs. It will block off blood flow and oxygen, putting the person at risk for long-term damage and even possible death. Usually, the cause for this comes from deep vein thrombosis breaking free from a blood clot in the leg. The thing is, a lot of the symptoms of this ordeal seem to mirror those of possible heart problems. Shortness of breath, chest pain, nausea, dizziness, etc. are all heart condition issues too.

Since the blood clot originally begins in the leg, you will likely experience leg pain and swelling well beforehand. This is good for doctors to take a look at alone, so it could save your life to get it checked out before the pulmonary embolism issue even becomes an issue. Without this aid, to begin with, at least 1 in 3 cases of PE are missed. The medical community does need to be better but we can do better as patients by alerting them to things like that leg issue we referenced.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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If you ask Dr. Greg House, it is NEVER lupus. This is a running joke in the House television show because lupus has been known to be given as a possible diagnosis for several things. Yet, for some reason, it is missed quite often among those who actually have it. Lupus tends to present like several other autoimmune disorders. Usually, those who have it will have a lot of inflammation in their body that will cause joint pain. The severity differs among all who have it. Lupus can also do damage to the kidneys, lungs, and even the heart. Most who have it will tend to have a butterfly-shaped rash on their face cheeks.

That makes one wonder, with such a sign, how is this one of the most misdiagnosed medical conditions? It is possibly due to not noticing the cheeks, but also assuming it is caused by something else. In a study conducted by the Lupus Foundation of America, roughly 46.5% of people with lupus are misdiagnosed. In their study, they found that over 50% were told that nothing was physically wrong with them, and it was all in their mind. Thus, a possible psychological condition. That is weird to hear too, as x-rays and blood tests could give those doctors a reason to second guess that assumption.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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Borderline Personality Disorder

We wish we could tell you an accurate, exact number of those that are currently misdiagnosed yet have this condition. Yet one of the hallmarks of borderline personality disorder is that many do not realize that they have it at all. Many are diagnosed with other mental disorders more often first. Usually, something like bipolar disorder presents in almost the exact same way with a few exceptions. Of course, bipolar disorder mostly affects your mood, causing sometimes wild swings between them. Yet BPD affects how you think and feel about yourself as well as others.

This causes a huge problem that can make one have self-image problems, emotional issues, unstable relationships, and behavioral challenges. Mood issues can make one think bad about themselves too. Both even cause depression and anxiety issues. Thus, it is easy to confuse them. Several studies have been conducted on BPD, but most tend to find that roughly 40% of people were misdiagnosed at some point in their life. However, as high as 10% of the general population are misdiagnosed with BPD when they do not have it.

The Most Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions In Scientific History
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To be fair to doctors, it is clear that assuming cancer the moment you see a patient is idiotic and terrible for any doctor to think at first. Unless someone has an obvious tumor or something that pops up on a scan, you need a lot of tests to confirm cancer for people. This is why doctors, especially family medicine or urgent care medical professionals, will likely treat the symptoms you’re experiencing. A lot of the issues cancer causes can mask as viruses or bacterial infections.

For example, bladder cancer might present as a standard UTI at first. Yet even if you get past this stage, and see a cancer specialist known as an Oncologist, misdiagnoses happen. According to a 2012 study by the Journal of Clinical Oncology, roughly 44% of the time, these doctors will misdiagnose the type of cancer you might have. Yet normal doctors will rarely think cancer-first like oncologists. They’ll assume a sinus infection rather than brain cancer.

Where do we find this stuff? Here are our sources:

Mayo Clinic

National Institutes of Health

Centers for Disease Control (CDC)

OASH Office of Women’s Health

Johns Hopkins Medicine

Cleveland Clinic

Columbia Medical Center

Michigan State University

University of Chicago Medicine – Celiac Disease Center

NASA Neuroscience And Spine Associates

American Heart Association

Lupus Foundation

Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation

Journal of Clinical Oncology