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Misdiagnoses: Getting the right treatment matters for your health

Misdiagnoses often occur because of the similarities between illnesses. People who struggle with chest pain, for example, could have a heart problem, lung disease or even a back injury. It's up to a medical provider to narrow down the possibilities and determine the true cause of injuries or illnesses.

With a misdiagnosis, your doctor tells you that you have a certain illness, but the reality is that you do not. Instead, you have an illness that mimics the diagnosis but that may not respond to the same treatment. As a result, you could end up with an illness that has progressed significantly by the time the misdiagnosis is identified.

Why do misdiagnoses happen?

Misdiagnoses happen for many reasons, with misinterpreting symptoms as just one cause. Another reason is that many doctors don't interact; that means that a primary care physician may not be looking for the same kinds of illnesses that an OB-GYN would look for or that a neurologist would identify. Each doctor has their own specialty, and that can make it hard to know all the possible diagnoses.

Experts place the rate of misdiagnoses at around 40 percent, but it's believed that they are rarely reported and underrepresented. Even if patients die of an illness, families don't always seek out an autopsy to discover the true cause. Autopsies are expensive, and they're unlikely to be sought unless a lawsuit is a possibility.

If you're misdiagnosed or fear a misdiagnosis, one of the best things you can do is to seek a second opinion. Getting two doctors to review your symptoms can help you find out if there's something they're missing or where there is a discrepancy in your case.

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