Sometimes patients think that making a medical diagnosis involves simply measuring vital signs, tallying symptoms, and choosing the corresponding illness or disease. However, many medical conditions can mimic each other, have similar signs or symptoms, or be just plain tricky to pinpoint. Read on for several medical diagnoses that may take some time to distinguish.
Appendicitis refers to the inflammation and painful swelling of the appendix, a small pouch extending from the large intestine. An inflamed appendix requires prompt surgical removal. However, a quick diagnosis can be thwarted due to the difficulty in distinguishing appendicitis from other medical conditions. Medscape lists several conditions that may present with symptoms similar to those of appendicitis. They include Crohn’s disease, endometriosis, diverticulitis, and pancreatitis. Women of childbearing age are particularly at risk for misdiagnosis of appendicitis. This is due to the similarity of symptoms in pelvic inflammatory disease, gastroenteritis, and urinary tract infections.
13. Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
Chronic fatigue syndrome is characterized by overwhelming tiredness or lethargy that is not improved by adequate rest. Individuals suffering from chronic fatigue syndrome may find themselves too tired to engage in normal daily tasks and may even be unable to summon the energy to leave their homes. Chronic fatigue syndrome can be difficult to diagnose because the symptoms are similar to those seen in infectious diseases like influenza, tuberculosis, or Lyme disease. Symptoms may also mimic those of neuroendocrine disorders like diabetes or Cushing’s disease. Bipolar disorder, anemia, and heavy metal exposure are just a few of the other diseases that can be confused with chronic fatigue syndrome.
Excessive bleeding, painful periods, and abdominal pain are signs of endometriosis, a condition in which the tissue that lines the uterus grows outside the uterus. Each month, this tissue will thicken as it would in the uterus, then break down and shed. Since it is not in the uterus, it is not able to leave the body and may form cysts. Symptoms of intense pain or excessive bleeding may also be signs of other disorders such as pelvic inflammatory disease, irritable bowel syndrome, or ovarian cancer. To distinguish this condition from other disorders, your doctor may use an MRI to visualize the area or a laparoscopic procedure to take tissue samples.
The condition in which your thyroid gland produces too much of the hormone thyroxine is known as hyperthyroidism, or overactive thyroid. Thyroxine affects nearly all of your body’s systems, including the heart, digestive system, metabolism, brain, bones, and muscles. Therefore, an overabundance of this hormone can cause a wide array of symptoms, including rapid heartbeat, increased appetite, weight loss, nervousness, sweating, and irritability. These symptoms may be confused with heart issues, digestive issues, or psychiatric issues. Your doctor can diagnose hyperthyroidism through a blood test to measure levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone in your blood.
Hypothyroidism occurs when the thyroid gland does not make enough of the thyroxine hormone to carry out necessary functions. Symptoms of this disorder may include fatigue, weight gain, weakness, hair loss, dry skin, and irritability. These symptoms may be confused with those of conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome, depression, menopause, or sleep apnea. High levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone in your blood accompanied by low levels of thyroxine can aid in the diagnosis of this condition.Related: 15 Thyroid Disease Symptoms You’re Ignoring
9. Irritable Bowel Syndrome
Symptoms of Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS) consist of abdominal pain, cramping, bloating, and diarrhea. The exact cause of this disorder is unknown, although it may be linked to abnormalities in the muscles or nerves of the intestinal tract. The Mayo Clinic also lists intestinal inflammation, severe infection, and abnormal gut flora as possible causes of IBS. This disorder can be difficult to diagnose due to the nonspecific symptoms of gastrointestinal distress. Additionally, there is no specific test used to positively diagnose patients with IBS.
8. Celiac Disease
Celiac disease is a condition that can sometimes mimic irritable bowel syndrome. According to the Celiac Disease Foundation, there are two steps to be taken in the diagnosis of celiac disease: screening and diagnosis. A doctor who suspects celiac disease may order a blood test called the tTg-IgA test. This test will pick up on antibodies in the blood that your immune system has formed against the gluten in wheat. If blood tests indicate that you have celiac disease, your physician will then order an intestinal biopsy. This involves using an endoscope to remove tissue from the small intestine in order to inspect the tissue for signs of celiac disease.
7. Sleep Apnea
Sleep apnea refers to periods in which a person stops breathing while sleeping. Obstructive sleep apnea refers to breathing that stops due to a blockage in the airway due to conditions like obesity, enlarged tonsils, or endocrine disorders. Central sleep apnea occurs when the brain is not properly signaling the body to breathe during sleep. Signs of sleep apnea include snoring, gasping for breath, or periods without breathing. These can result in extreme daytime drowsiness and fatigue, headaches, dry mouth, and difficulty concentrating. Daytime symptoms can be confused with depression, narcolepsy, or hypothyroidism. Your physician may use a sleep study to diagnose sleep apnea.Related: 7 Secret Sleep Apnea Symptoms
Lupus is an autoimmune disorder in which a person’s immune system attacks their own healthy tissues and organs. Common signs of lupus can be nonspecific and difficult to distinguish from those of other medical conditions. They may include fatigue, headaches, swollen joints, and sensitivity to the sun. While lupus is sometimes accompanied by a rash across the cheeks and nose, this butterfly-shaped rash does not always occur. Since there is no definitive test for lupus, diagnosis can be difficult. A physician may run blood tests to check your immune system function or to look for signs of inflammation.
5. Lyme Disease
Lyme disease is a disease spread through the bites of infected ticks. Symptoms of Lyme disease include fever, fatigue, chills, headache, and muscle or joint pain. In many cases, symptoms are accompanied by a rash three to 30 days after the bite. Early symptoms of Lyme disease may be confused with influenza. As the disease progresses, it may be inaccurately diagnosed as conditions like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, or chronic fatigue syndrome. Blood tests can help aid in the diagnosis of Lyme disease.
4. Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a disorder in which the body’s immune system attacks the central nervous system (CNS), including the brain and spinal cord. Symptoms may include fatigue, numbness, difficulty walking, and involuntary muscle spasms. Sudden visual problems can also be a distressing symptom of MS. This condition can be tricky to diagnose, as it may mimic other autoimmune disorders, infections of the CNS, or vitamin deficiencies. The National Multiple Sclerosis Society states that in order to diagnose MS, a physician’s findings must meet three criteria. There must be damage in at least two areas of the CNS, the damage must have occurred at separate times, and all other possible diagnoses must be ruled out.Related: 10 Signs of Lupus You Shouldn’t Ignore
3. Parkinson’s Disease
Parkinson’s disease occurs when nerve cells in the brain die or become defective and no longer produce the dopamine needed for proper motor function. Symptoms of Parkinson’s may include hand tremor, rigid muscles, slow movement, and loss of balance. Individuals with Parkinson’s may also suffer from impaired speech. This condition can be confused with other muscle disorders or with conditions like Alzheimer’s disease, dementia, or stroke. There are no specific tests available to diagnose Parkinson’s disease. However, a neurologist can narrow down the diagnosis through a physical exam and medical tests to rule out other conditions.
2. Polycystic Ovary Syndrome
Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) is a hormonal disorder that causes irregular or missed menstrual periods. Symptoms may also include pain due to ovarian cysts, weight gain, fatigue, acne, and unusual growth of facial hair. Symptoms may be confused with those of thyroid or adrenal disorders. While there is no medical test specific for PCOS, your physician may diagnose this condition through the use of a physical exam, blood tests, and ultrasound.
1. Pulmonary Embolism
A pulmonary embolism occurs when a blood clot travels through the bloodstream to lodge in the lungs, blocking an artery. This condition can be misdiagnosed due to the nonspecific symptoms of difficulty breathing, chest pain, and cough. It may be confused with heart failure, pneumonia, or anxiety.Related: Parkinson’s Disease: 10 Warning Signs