Five of the Most Commonly Misdiagnosed Neurological Conditions

July 12, 2021 by Carrie Capouellez
Misdiagnosed Neurological Conditions

Although we trust doctors to help us stay healthy and get well, physicians sometimes make mistakes. It is estimated that diagnostic errors affect nearly 12 million adults in the U.S. each year. While some mistakes have few consequences or could be considered minor, others severely affect the health and wellbeing of patients. This is particularly true for patients displaying neurological symptoms. Neurological conditions are often misdiagnosed because the symptoms are incredibly common and can be attributed to multiple conditions; however, with the proper medical examination and scans, a doctor can correctly diagnose a patient’s medical issue. Unfortunately, some doctors are not always as careful as they should be, and this can lead to a misdiagnosis. Neurological disorders often require fast treatment to prevent further damage to the body. A misdiagnosis, and subsequent incorrect treatment, can make a neurological condition much worse and even kill someone.

The most commonly misdiagnosed neurological conditions include:

  • Multiple Sclerosis (MS) – MS occurs when the immune system eats away the protective covering around nerves in the central nervous system. Scans of MS patients often show lesions around the spinal cord. Since not all spinal cord lesions indicate MS, this can lead to misdiagnosis.
  • Epilepsy – According to studies, as many as 25% of patients referred to epilepsy centers were misdiagnosed. A leading cause of epilepsy misdiagnosis is the misinterpretation of a patient’s electroencephalogram or EEG.
  • Stroke – Because identifying and treating strokes is time sensitive for the survival of the patients, many emergency rooms misdiagnose strokes. The symptoms of a stroke can be confused with the symptoms of a condition called Bell’s Palsy. A proper neurological exam can help determine the correct diagnosis. Strokes occur when the blood supply to the brain is restricted. Symptoms usually include vision impairment, confusion, headaches, numbness of the face, and/or trouble speaking or walking. Stroke symptoms in young adults can also be confused with vertigo, migraines, or intoxication.
  • Dementia – It may be difficult to believe dementia can be misdiagnosed, but it does happen. Elderly patients can suffer from late-life depression, which can cause cognitive impairment similar to dementia.
  • Migraines – Many migraines are misdiagnosed as sinusitis, or a sinus infection. Misdiagnosis can cause patients to suffer through ineffective treatments.

Neurological conditions are not the only misdiagnosed health concerns. Many doctors have trouble accurately diagnosing other diseases and conditions that require rapid and efficient treatment. Other commonly misdiagnosed conditions include:

  • Cancer is a malignant growth of cells that can spread through the body and cause death. Because there are over 100 types of cancer in humans, symptoms can range anywhere from unusual bleeding, to weight loss, to abnormal lumps. To accurately diagnose cancer, extensive diagnostic testing is required. Treatment is often aggressive to prevent the cancer from getting worse or spreading. Accurate diagnosis is critical to stopping cancer growth.
  • A heart attack occurs when the blood flow to the heart is decreased or blocked. The most common symptom is severe chest pain, however, not all patients experience chest pain they feel is severe, instead describing the sensation as “indigestion.” Many doctors will misdiagnose a heart attack in women as they do not always experience a sensation of tingling in the left arm or pain in the chest and only present with uncomfortable indigestion.
  • Depression is marked by feelings of sadness, anxiety, and/or irritability. It can often cause chronic fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and sleep issues.
  • Lyme Disease is a bacterial infection that enters a person’s bloodstream via a tick bite. The condition can cause muscle and joint pain, fever, stiffness, and fatigue. A rash is often an obvious indicator of Lyme Disease; however, not all patients develop a skin irritation.
  • Fibromyalgia is characterized by widespread muscle and joint pain, fatigue, anxiety, and sleeplessness. Women are more likely to develop fibromyalgia than are men, and their complaints are too often disregarded by physicians in a rush or who don’t believe in a patient’s symptoms.
  • Thyroid conditions are hormonal imbalances of the thyroid. Too high or too low levels of the hormones connected to the thyroid can cause weakness, fatigue, fluctuations in weight, and muscle pain.
  • Aortic dissection occurs when the inner layer of the aorta tears, causing blood to seep through the tear and separate the inner and middle layers of the aorta. Common symptoms include sudden and severe chest pain, loss of consciousness, shortness of breath, difficulty breathing, paralysis on one side of the body, or a weak pulse in one arm compared to the other.

The best way for doctors to avoid a misdiagnosis is to collect a detailed patient history, perform a thorough physical and neurological exam, and utilize appropriate medical tests and scans. Failing to do so could cause significant harm to the patient or even death.

Philadelphia Attorneys for Misdiagnosed Neurological Conditions

If you or someone you know was a victim of a misdiagnosed neurological condition or failure to diagnose in Pennsylvania, contact the experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Lopez McHugh LLP as soon as possible for a confidential and free consultation. Our attorneys will explain your legal rights and pursue compensation on your behalf for your injuries and other damages.


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