The 20 Most Misdiagnosed Men’s Health Issues
The first diagnosis isn't always the right one.
Getting misdiagnosed is just as dangerous as having a serious health condition, if not more so—and unfortunately, it’s all too common. According to one 2014 study published in the journal BMJ Quality & Safety, there are approximately 12 million misdiagnoses in America per year. So, before you take your doctor’s pronouncements about your health at face value, read up on some of the most commonly misdiagnosed men’s health issues.
Since fibromyalgia is seen as more of a women’s health issue—anywhere from 75 to 90 percent of all patients with the condition are female, according to the National Fibromyalgia Association—doctors are hesitant to diagnose male patients with it, even when all of their symptoms point to the disease. One 2012 study published in the journal Arthritis Care & Research determined that far more individuals exhibited all of the signs of the condition than were diagnosed, which was especially true among men.
“Health care providers may not think of this diagnosis when face to face with a male patient with musculoskeletal pain and fatigue,” Dr. Ann Vincent, M.D., study author and medical director of Mayo Clinic’s Fibromyalgia and Chronic Fatigue Clinic, explained in a press release.
All risk factors aside, men are more likely than women to develop lung cancer over their lifetime. According to the American Cancer Society, the chance that a man will have lung cancer at some point is about 1 in 15 compared to 1 in 17 for a woman. And while the five-year survival rate for lung cancer is 56 percent for cases in which the cancer is detected when it’s still only in the lungs, the condition is unfortunately often misdiagnosed.
One 2010 study published in the Journal of Clinical Oncology found that 38 percent of lung cancer patients experienced delays in their diagnoses, despite abnormal imaging results and other indications something was amiss.
Colon cancer, or colorectal cancer, skews slightly more male: According to the American Cancer Society, the risk of developing it is about 4.5 percent for men and about 4.2 percent for women. And though there are many things that contribute to the fact that colorectal cancer is the third most deadly cancer, one of the biggest factors is how often it goes misdiagnosed.
One 2010 study published in the American Journal of Gastroenterology analyzed colorectal cancer cases between February 1999 and June 2007 and found that there were missed opportunities for an earlier diagnosis in 31 percent of cases.
Acute Coronary Syndrome
Acute coronary syndrome—defined as any heart-related condition that impairs blood flow to the heart—is more prevalent among men. One 2006 meta-analysis published in the Canadian Journal of Cardiology, for instance, found that from 1986 to 2003, the proportion of male patients with acute coronary syndrome in one coronary care unit was 70 percent.
However, while doctors know to look for heart issues in men, the problem remains that the symptoms of acute coronary syndrome tend to mimic other conditions, such as an acute pulmonary embolism. One 2011 study published in the journal Kardiologia Polska analyzed nearly 300 patients with an acute pulmonary embolism and found that one-third of them had the same symptoms that would suggest acute coronary syndrome.
According to one 2004 meta-analysis published in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, men are 1.5 times more likely to develop Parkinson’s disease than women are. Still, it can be a challenging disease to diagnose. According to the Parkinson’s Foundation, there are several conditions that mimic Parkinson’s, including essential tremor, normal pressure hydrocephalus, dementia, and multiple system atrophy.
Though pneumonia can affect anyone, regardless of their age, race, or gender, it tends to impact men more than women. In 2008, researchers from the University of Pittsburgh found that men who enter the hospital with the illness are typically sicker and have a higher risk of dying over the next year, regardless of how aggressive their treatment is.
And to make matters worse, another 2010 study presented at the annual meeting of the Infectious Diseases Society of America found that when patients were readmitted to the hospital after having pneumonia, 72 percent were misdiagnosed with the disease again and were subsequently prescribed pricey antibiotics they didn’t need.
Type 1 Diabetes
Type 1 and type 2 diabetes are both conditions related to the body’s insulin levels and the way in which it processes (or doesn’t process) glucose. However, type 1 diabetes is treated differently than type 2 diabetes, which means it’s problematic when doctors mistake the former for the latter—something that happens far too often.
In one 2019 study published in the journal Diabetologia, researchers found that more than a third of patients over the age of 30 who were initially diagnosed with type 2 diabetes were later diagnosed with type 1.
When all other factors were set aside, one 2003 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine found that from 1979 to 1998, mortality rates for male patients with pulmonary thromboemolisms were 20 to 30 percent higher than the mortality rates among women.
And seeing as this is a serious condition that claims hundreds of thousands of lives each year, it doesn’t help that another 2009 study—also published in JAMA Internal Medicine—that analyzed nearly 600 cases of diagnostic error found that the most common missed and/or delayed diagnosis was a pulmonary embolism.
Whipple’s disease is a rare bacterial infection that primarily affects the white male population. The problem is that, because its symptoms mimic that of rheumatoid arthritis and other conditions, it is often troublesome for doctors to diagnose. One 2017 study published in the Orphanet Journal of Rare Diseases found that an overwhelming number of patients with Whipple’s disease were treated for rheumatic arthritis and waited an average of five years to be properly diagnosed.
Since treatment for acute appendicitis, or an inflamed appendix, requires surgical removal of the organ, it is extremely important that a doctor is 100 percent sure of their diagnosis. However, this often isn’t the case. One report from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’s Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality notes that appendicitis is misdiagnosed as often as 20 to 40 percent of the time in some areas.
With common symptoms like fatigue, cognitive issues, and vision impairment, multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the more difficult diseases to diagnose. What’s more, when doctors do diagnose patients with MS, they frequently miss the mark. One 2019 analysis published in the journal Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders found that among 240 patients at two clinics diagnosed with MS, an average of 18 percent were misdiagnosed.
Approximately 1 out of every 20 deaths in the United States is due to a stroke, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And unfortunately, doctors tend to be slow to diagnose patients with this heart malady. One 2009 study presented at the American Stroke Association International Stroke Conference found that when younger patients arrive at the hospital with what is eventually deemed a stroke, they are often misdiagnosed with things like vertigo and intoxication.
Though asthma is a common chronic condition, physicians and medical professionals continue to struggle to diagnose it. One 2017 study published in the journal JAMA randomly selected 613 patients diagnosed with asthma and found that more than 33 percent didn’t actually have it.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome
With symptoms like bloating, bowel issues, and abdominal pain, irritable bowel syndrome, or IBS, is difficult for doctors to properly diagnose. In fact, it’s so difficult that one 2014 study published in the United European Gastroenterology Journal found that approximately 1 in 10 patients had their symptoms mistaken for IBS.
“Many patients referred for Lyme disease are ultimately found to have a rheumatologic or neurologic diagnosis,” according to a 2015 study published in the journal Infectious Disease Clinics of North America. That’s because the most common symptoms include chronic pain, fatigue, and cognition issues—and without an obvious bullseye rash, these symptoms can indicate everything from fibromyalgia to chronic fatigue syndrome. The tick-borne disease is sometimes even called “the great imitator.”
Chronic migraine sufferers are frequently misdiagnosed with everything from tumors to anxiety. One 2013 study published in The Journal of Headache and Pain even found that, among 130 migraine patients, 81.5 percent had once been misdiagnosed with sinusitis.
Depression is both a condition and a symptom, so doctors often mistake the former for the latter, and vice versa.
A 2009 meta-analysis published in the journal The Lancet looked at 118 studies and concluded that, of more than 50,300 depression cases, only 47 percent were proper diagnoses.
Lupus is one of the most commonly misdiagnosed conditions out there. One 2004 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine followed patients referred to an Autoimmune Disease Center for 13 months and found that 48 percent of those who were originally diagnosed with systemic lupus erythematosus were eventually properly diagnosed with something else.
Acute Kidney Failure
It’s imperative that this condition be diagnosed as soon as possible in order to avoid long-term kidney damage or even death. However, sometimes going to the doctor isn’t a guarantee that you’ll receive proper treatment for your failing kidneys. One 2013 study published in JAMA Internal Medicine analyzed 190 misdiagnoses and found that acute renal failure, or kidney failure, was one of the most common ones.
Obsessive Compulsive Disorder
Since mental health diagnoses tend to be based on observation rather than testing, it’s easy to misdiagnose someone. Take obsessive-compulsive disorder, or OCD, for instance. One 2015 study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry surveyed more than 200 physicians and found that the misdiagnosis rate for the condition was a staggering 51 percent. And for ways to work on your well-being, check out these 20 Expert-Backed Ways to Improve Your Mental Health Every Day.
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