6 Commonly Misdiagnosed Medical Conditions

Misdiagnosis is a common form of medical malpractice. Medical industry standards do not expect physicians to make correct diagnoses 100% of the time, but they do expect doctors to follow a certain protocol for the most accurate conclusions. A physician’s neglect to listen to symptoms, recommend tests, or refer the patient to a specialist could result in preventable medical misdiagnosis. Although a negligent physician can misdiagnose virtually any condition, some ailments lead to misdiagnosis more often than others.


Diagnosing cancer can be difficult because of the range of symptoms that can come with the disease. Symptoms can vary according to the type of cancer, its severity, and the individual patient. Many symptoms, such as respiratory problems, indigestion, fever, and unexpected weight loss, can point to a number of conditions. Diagnosing cancer promptly and correctly can therefore be difficult. Studies have shown the most commonly misdiagnosed types of cancer include melanoma, lymphoma, and breast cancer. Missing patient information, rushed patient evaluations, and incomplete medical histories are frequent reasons for cancer misdiagnoses.


It is relatively common for diagnosing physicians to mistakenly label a minor stroke as a different health condition. Early signs of strokes can mimic many other problems, including vertigo and migraines. A physician could overlook red flags for a more serious stroke, especially if the physician is in a hurry or negligent.

Unfortunately, premature discharge of a misdiagnosed patient who suffered a stroke can lead to a more severe episode later. Part of the problem is often the age of the patient. Many physicians associate strokes with older age, which can lead to misdiagnosis of younger patients. Yet stroke can be a lifestyle or genetic condition that also affects younger patients.

Heart Attack

A doctor could misdiagnose a heart attack for many other conditions, including indigestion, anxiety, heartburn, pulmonary embolism, or musculoskeletal pain. Misdiagnosis can occur for many reasons. The most common mistakes are failure to order an EKG or other cardiovascular tests, a patient that does not fit the expected profile, or misinterpreting test results. Similar to a stroke, doctors often misdiagnose heart attacks in younger patients, as well as in women. Women present heart attacks differently than men. Women may not experience chest pain, but instead feel shortness of breath, weakness, nausea, and body aches.

Lyme Disease

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection spread through the bite of a tick. The list of possible symptoms for Lyme disease is long. Paired with the relatively uncommon nature of Lyme disease, this leads to frequent misdiagnoses. Symptoms of Lyme disease can include rash, fever, headache, muscle aches, chills, and swollen lymph nodes. Physicians may mistake Lyme disease for the flu, meningitis, or mononucleosis. Although no known cure for Lyme disease exists, a correct and timely diagnosis can lead to treatments that can help patients manage its symptoms.


Lupus is a chronic inflammatory disease that can mimic conditions such as chronic fatigue syndrome and rheumatoid arthritis. It takes chest x-rays, blood cell counts, DNA tests, and other tests to correctly identify lupus in a patient. Failure to order the correct tests or ignoring certain symptoms (such as kidney damage, rash, or joint pain) could lead to a lupus misdiagnosis and delayed treatments.


Fibromyalgia can cause joint and muscle pain, anxiety, trouble sleeping, and anxiety – all symptoms that doctors may misconstrue as another condition. Common misdiagnoses for fibromyalgia include rheumatoid arthritis and chronic fatigue syndrome. It is important to examine the patient’s history to make this diagnosis, as red flags are pain lasting more than three months and the presence of at least 11 points on the body that are sensitive to pain. Negligent patient evaluation can lead to a misdiagnosis and subsequent medical malpractice claim.