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5 Commonly misdiagnosed diseases and what they could actually be

Unfortunately, being diagnosed with one disease when really it’s another is more common than you may think. A new study by BMJ Quality & Safety found that at least one in 20 adults are misdiagnosed in outpatient clinics every year in the U.S. In other words, 12 million people are diagnosed with the wrong illness every single year.

These are five most commonly misdiagnosed diseases and what they really could be.

Celiac disease

With so many people complaining of gluten allergies in recent years, it’s no wonder celiac disease is often overlooked. According to Celiac Central, 83 percent of Americans with celiac disease are undiagnosed or misdiagnosed with other conditions. Symptoms include fatigue, bloating, constipation, headaches, joint pain and even depression. Because of the broad range of symptoms, it’s not uncommon to be diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome, anemia or chronic fatigue syndrome.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

Research finds that nearly one million children are misdiagnosed with ADHD in the U.S. Adults are misdiagnosed with this disorder, too. Dr. Prakash Masand, president of Global Medical Education, states that only 8.8 percent of children and 4 percent of adults truly have ADHD.

“There is often an overdiagnosis of this illness because of cursory examination leading to the prescription of stimulant medications to patients who do not need them. Often the diagnosis is missed both in children and adults. The reason is that adults are usually present with inattention rather than hyperactivity. Distractibility and inattention are often misdiagnosed in adult ADHD patients as anxiety disorder, depression or personality traits. Also the criteria for ADHD were developed mainly in children and applied to adults,” he states.

Lyme disease

Symptoms of Lyme disease include joint pain, headaches, nausea, fatigue, swollen lymph nodes and muscle aches. Sounds a lot like the flu, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, because the symptoms are vague and can vary from person to person, Lyme disease often goes misdiagnosed or undiagnosed. Though the disease originates from a tick bite, not everyone may notice when — or even if — they were bitten. Those who suffer from Lyme disease have often been told they had the flu, depression, chronic fatigue syndrome or fibromyalgia, as the symptoms can be common in all of those illnesses.


Fibromyalgia is marked with chronic pain throughout the body — particularly in joints — and fatigue. There are no tests that indicate if a person has fibromyalgia, making it incredibly difficult to properly diagnose. The symptoms resemble rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, hypothyroidism and even Lyme disease. Once treated though, symptoms normally subside and the person can resume a pain-free life.

Thyroid disorders

Because the symptoms are generally mild, both hyperthyroidism and hypothyroidism often go misdiagnosed. People may be diagnosed with panic disorder, sleep disorders, lupus, depression and even Alzheimer’s disease. Symptoms of thyroid disorders can include muscle pain, discomfort of the neck, diarrhea or constipation, fatigue and weight changes. Luckily, the disease can be found by testing the thyroid levels in your blood. Even though it’s relatively easy to find, it still goes misdiagnosed because of the varying symptoms from person to person.

5 Ways to avoid being misdiagnosed

Dr. David Harrison, medical director at Best Doctors, a global health company that brings together the best medical minds to help people get the right diagnosis and treatment, shares five tips to help avoid being misdiagnosed:

1. Don’t be shy.

Be curious, and insistent. Ask your doctor questions about your diagnosis and treatment. Ask things like, “What else could this be?” Keep asking questions every step of the way until you’re satisfied with the answers.

2. Get a second opinion.

Don’t show up and tell the next doctor, “I’ve been diagnosed with this type of illness, what do you think?” Instead, focus on telling the doctor all of your symptoms. Don’t guide their thinking toward what the first doctor said you have. As Dr. Jerome Groopman writes in his classic book How Doctors Think, “Telling the story again may help the physician register some clue that was, in fact, said the first time but was overlooked or thought unimportant.”

3. Take the time to get to know your family medical history — and make sure your doctor knows about it.

Studies show your family history may tell you more about what kinds of illnesses you may have or are likely to get than even genetic testing. If you search for “My Family Health Portrait” on Google you’ll find a handy online tool from the U.S. surgeon general to assemble your own family medical history.

4. Take someone with you to your doctor’s visit.

It’s hard to listen to difficult medical news and pay attention to all the details at the same time. Bring along a friend or family member to remind you of questions you want to ask, and to help you write down important notes.

5. Have your pathology re-checked.

If you had a biopsy and your diagnosis is based on your pathology report, try to get it reviewed again. Pathology is incorrectly interpreted more often than commonly thought. If that interpretation is wrong, your diagnosis — and your treatment — are probably going to be wrong, too.

More on diseases

Scary diseases you should know about
Celiac disease: When gluten has to go
Pro soccer player Christie Rampone on living with Lyme disease

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