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Millions of Americans spend years suffering from unexplained health problems. Sometimes even the best doctors miss the mark: About 40 percent of all mistakes that doctors make are misdiagnoses, says the National Patient Safety Foundation.
That’s because many ailments have similar symptoms or can be detected only with tests that your physician might consider unnecessary if he’s confident in his verdict.
If you’re in the know about often-confused conditions, though, you can ask the right questions to prevent or fix an error — and even save your life.
Here, some of the diseases most often missed:
1. Lupus. Lupus is two to three times more common among African Americans, Hispanics, Native Americans and Asians – a disparity that remains unexplained. Specifically, lupus is three times more common in black women than in white women. This autoimmune disease, found mainly in women, can cause common symptoms such as fatigue, achy or swollen joints and fevers. More than half say they suffered for at least four years and saw three or more doctors before getting a diagnosis. Black and Hispanic/Latina women tend to develop symptoms at an earlier age than other women. African Americans have more severe organ problems, especially with their kidneys. Between 1979 and 1998, death rates from lupus increased nearly 70% among black women between the ages of 45 and 64 years.
2. Sarcoidosis.Doctors have misdiagnosed this disease as asthma, bronchitis, tuberculosis, and COPD and other diseases because there is not a lot known about it. Most people and doctors too don’t even know what this disease is. They are not sure what causes it and they don’t have a cure as of yet. In the United States, sarcoidosis frequently occurs more often and more severely among African Americans than among Caucasians. Most studies suggest a higher disease rate for women.
3. COPD. COPD which covers chronic bronchitis and emphysema, is the fourth highest cause of death in the United States. COPD is often misdiagnosed and undertreated as asthma. Studies show that African American adults with COPD, asthma, or coexisting asthma and COPD use fewer medical services and account for lower medical costs than Caucasians because of non-diagnosis.
4. Hepatitis C. It’s the leading cause of liver transplants and the most common cause of liver-related deaths in this country, but as many as 70 percent of those infected are unaware they carry the virus. African-Americans face a “triple whammy” when it comes to the hepatitis C virus. Two aspects of this triple threat are well known: the high prevalence of the virus in the African-American community and the lower response to therapy of infected individuals. But there’s a third threat: African-Americans don’t spontaneously clear the virus as often as other racial and ethnic groups.
5. Hypothyroidism. About half of the nearly 27 million people with an underactive thyroid are undiagnosed. Symptoms such as fatigue, weight gain, hair loss and poor memory are often dismissed as normal signs of aging. According to new research, African Americans are diagnosed with thyroid cancer at a significantly lower rate than white Americans. According to the study authors, more aggressive detection efforts in African Americans could uncover more incidence of thyroid cancer, to the extent that the African American and white populations may be experiencing similar rates of increase.