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Updated by tampatriallawyers on Sep 25, 2017
Headline for 5 Most Common Misdiagnoses
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5 Most Common Misdiagnoses

For doctors, the first step in fixing a patient’s health problem is knowing exactly what the problem is. Sometimes, however, physicians will get it wrong, and either make an incorrect diagnosis or fail to identify a condition at all. When misdiagnoses happen, patients may not receive the treatments they need to get better or may even undergo unnecessary surgeries or courses of treatment that make them worse.

Misdiagnosis is a major basis for medical malpractice claims, and results in thousands off adverse health issues and deaths every year. According to a 2014 study, approximately 12 million American adults are misdiagnosed each year, amounting to 1 of every 20 adult patients. In about half of those cases, the study found, the incorrect diagnosis had the potential to result in sever harm to the patient.

Another study, published in JAMA Internal Medicine in 2012, found that some of the most common reasons for misdiagnosis include:

  • problems with ordering diagnostic tests;
  • failure by the patient to provide an accurate medical history; and
  • errors made by a doctor in interpreting test results.

As noted, a misdiagnosis can lead to devastating consequences, and can delay or prevent a patient from getting the care and treatment they need. When doctors fail to follow the appropriate standard of care in examining, testing, and diagnosing a patient’s condition, a patient who suffers as a result may have a medical malpractice claim for compensation.

1

Cancer

Cancer is by far the most misdiagnosed medical condition in the U.S., according to a Harvard study of malpractice claims. Missed or delayed diagnosis of breast, lung and colorectal cancer are particularly common. In fact, those cancers accounted for almost 10 percent of physician-reported diagnostic errors in a study by the Journal of the American Medical Association. But all types of cancer can be and all too often are missed due to improper and inadequate screening. A study by the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that doctors may miss or misdiagnose certain types of cancer up to 44 percent of the time.

2

Myocardial infarctions and heart attacks

Heart attacks don’t always follow the same script. While many heart attacks manifest themselves with the familiar symptoms of chest pain and pain in the left arm, others are more subtle at first, mimicking other, less serious conditions such as chronic back or neck pain. Similarly, symptoms often associated with the flu, like fatigue, cold sweats, dizziness, or nausea, are often signs of heart attack and can be easily misdiagnosed.

3

Pulmonary embolism

This often-fatal vascular problem involves a blood clot which either forms in or ultimately reaches the lungs. According to the JAMA study referred to above, missed or delayed diagnosis of pulmonary embolisms constituted 4.5 percent of all physician-reported diagnostic errors. This is because the common symptoms of chest pain, wheezing or coughing that accompany an embolism are very much like a chest cold or asthma. Determining whether an embolism has formed is also challenging because multiple tests are involved and one misread result can lead to a wrong conclusion with catastrophic results.

4

Stroke

Take two aspirin and call me in the morning may be a cliché, but strokes are often overlooked when patients present with headaches or dizziness that are dismissed as minor problems. This is particularly true with younger people, women, and minorities.

5

Fibromyalgia

This chronic condition presents as muscle and joint pain, fatigue, anxiety, and problems with sleep. These are often mistaken for conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, or chronic fatigue syndrome which share many of the same characteristics.