15 Diseases Doctors Often Get Wrong
By Amanda MacMillan
When you experience strange pains, mysterious digestive issues, or other unexplained symptoms, you’d hope a trip to the doctor would solve your health woes. But sometimes, doctors have just as much trouble identifying certain disorders and conditions as their patients. “A lot of symptoms are nonspecific and variable, depending on the person,” says David Fleming, MD, president of the American College of Physicians and a professor of medicine at the University of Missouri. “On top of that, many diagnostic tests are expensive and aren’t done routinely, and even then they don’t always give us a black and white answer.” The following 5 conditions are notoriously difficult to pin down.
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Irritable bowel syndrome
Some conditions are difficult to diagnose because there is no real test to prove their existence; rather, they require a “diagnosis of elimination,” says Dr. Fleming, as doctors rule out all other possibilities. Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)—a chronic condition that affects the large intestine and causes abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, diarrhea, and/or constipation—is one of these cases. According to diagnostic criteria, a patient should have symptoms for at least six months before first being seen for a formal evaluation, and discomfort should be present at least three days a month in the last three months before being diagnosed with IBS.
So much confusion surrounds celiac disease—an immune reaction to gluten that triggers inflammation in the small intestine—that it takes the average patient six to 10 years to be properly diagnosed. Celiac sufferers would, in theory, have digestive problems when eating gluten-containing foods like wheat, barley, and rye, but in fact, only about half of people diagnosed with the disease have experienced diarrhea and weight loss. Celiac disease can also cause itchy skin, headaches, joint pain, and acid reflux or heartburn, and it’s all too easy to blame these symptoms on other things. A blood test can diagnose celiac disease no matter what symptoms are present, and an endoscopy can determine any damage that’s been done to the small intestine.