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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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Migraine

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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Depression

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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Lupus

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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Cancer

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

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