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What are the most common misdiagnoses in the medical field?

On Behalf of | Mar 4, 2024 | Medical Malpractice

Diagnosis is one of the most important services a medical doctor provides to patients. In some instances, a variety of different maladies can cause similar symptoms. The average person has little way of knowing whether they have a cold or something more serious. A doctor should ask appropriate questions and order tests or imaging in order to get to the true cause of someone’s symptoms. The diagnostic process should rule out more serious and concerning conditions before honing in on the likely cause of someone’s complaints. Unfortunately, personal bias, distraction and stress can all affect how well a doctor diagnoses a patient.

Sometimes, doctors misdiagnose their patients and determine the wrong underlying cause for major symptoms. When this happens, a patient may not get the care that they need or could undergo treatments that they don’t require. Roughly 795,000 people each year experience medical consequences of misdiagnosis. Certain types of conditions are more likely to be misdiagnosed than others. What maladies have the strongest association with diagnostic errors?

Cancers are at the top of the list

Cancer often starts in a local area and then spreads to other parts of the body. Cancers frequently produce relatively generic symptoms at first, such as the loss of appetite and a persistent sense of fatigue. Sometimes, doctors to quickly conclude that something less serious is the cause of someone’s symptoms when they actually have cancer. Multiple types of cancer are among the 10 most commonly misdiagnosed illnesses. Those cancers include:

  • colorectal cancer
  • lung cancer
  • breast cancer
  • prostate cancer
  • bladder cancer

Colorectal cancer currently holds the ignoble title of being the disease that doctors are most likely to misdiagnose.

Pulmonary and neurological issues are often misdiagnosed

Heart attacks and strokes are among the most pressing medical emergencies that patients experience. These conditions require immediate intervention in order to prevent permanent brain damage and death. A myocardial infarction (heart attack) is among the most-overlooked medical issues. Strokes, pulmonary embolisms, and brain hemorrhages also see high rates of diagnostic failure.

Unfortunately, doctors often overlook the early warning signs of severe medical events. Particularly when a patient is younger than average or female, a doctor might rush to another diagnostic conclusion before ruling out these severe medical issues. Sepsis, pneumonia, heart failure, kidney failure and urinary tract infections are also frequently misdiagnosed.

If a misdiagnosis altered the care that a patient receives, resulting in a serious injury or death, that patient or their loved ones may have grounds to pursue a medical malpractice lawsuit. Depending on the factual circumstances of the case, a medical malpractice lawsuit can seek to obtain compensation for past and future medical expenses incurred as a result of misdiagnosis, lost wages associated with the injuries suffered, pain, suffering, emotional distress, disfigurement, and loss of a normal life caused by the diagnostic failure.