Scary Illnesses That Doctors Often Can’t Properly Diagnose

We may think we can diagnose our own illnesses because of the internet. But at the end of the day, there’s no better way to identify ailments than talking to your doctor. Or is there? As it turns out, some serious illnesses are difficult for even the professionals to pinpoint. With help from a CNN report, we take a look at 15 scary illnesses that doctors have a difficult time diagnosing — some of which are sure to surprise you (especially the malady on page 11.)

1. Diabetes

man measuring glucose levels for his diabetes

You can have diabetes for years with very few symptoms. | iStock.com/BernardaSv

This probably comes as a shock. How can such a prevalent disease be difficult to diagnose? As Dr. David Fleming tells CNN, diabetes can survive in the body for years before symptoms make it apparent. He adds it doesn’t help that people don’t go to the doctor until something to severely wrong. “There are a lot of people out there with elevated blood sugar levels who aren’t getting to the doctor regularly, so they aren’t getting checked for it,” he says.

Next: Another common problem that’s hard to pin down …

2. Rheumatoid arthritis

Senior man with pain in his back being helped by a woman

You may be stiff, but you may not always connect that to arthritis. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

You make think that identifying aches and pains is a cinch. In reality, something like rheumatoid arthritis is hard to pinpoint because its symptoms are so general — and can be connected to a number of different ailments. “Early stages of RA can mimic many other conditions — sometimes it’s just a sense of aches or stiffness in the joints, which could be caused by a lot of different things,” Fleming tells CNN. An extensive exam and well-charted medical history are needed to identify this problem.

Next: This sickness is harder to diagnose than you thought …

3. Celiac disease

a woman sitting at a table refusing bread with coffee in front of her

There are over 200 symptoms of this disease, making it hard to diagnose. | iStock.com/lolostock

Thanks to the “gluten free” craze, many individuals think that identifying celiac disease is a piece of cake. But even doctors have a hard time diagnosing this sickness, because the symptoms can be so varied. In fact, Celiac.com tells us that there are more than 200 signs and symptoms of celiac disease. Plus, individuals may experience no symptoms at all — although they’re still at just as high a risk of developing complications from the disease.

Next: Diagnosing this ailment is a real kick in the gut …

4. Irritable bowel syndrome

Woman with stomach problem

Unfortunately, you’ll have to experience discomfort for awhile before you get the proper diagnosis. | Tharakorn/iStock/Getty Images

What is it that makes IBS difficult for doctors to diagnose? There’s no designated test to diagnose it, Fleming tells CNN. The criteria to be diagnosed is to “have symptoms for at least six months before first being seen for a formal evaluation, and discomfort should be present at least three days a month in the last three months.” Long story short: You have to be in pain for a while before a doctor can tell you what’s wrong.

Next: Not all illnesses have constant symptoms …

5. Multiple Sclerosis

Patient lying on bed with doctor over him

The symptoms for MS aren’t present all the time. | Ridofranz/iStock/Getty Images

MS could never go through the diagnostic process that IBS goes through. Granted, once your doctor suspects MS, a spinal tap or MRI can be done to confirm. However, symptoms of this autoimmune disease don’t always occur at a constant rate, Dr. Eugene Shapiro tells CNN. First signs may include weakness or tingling in the limbs, the lack of constant symptoms makes MS hard to pinpoint.

Next: We’re sure you’ll be surprised by the next ailment on our list …

6. Fibromyalgia

senior with painful arm during rehabilitation

You may never suspect fibromyalgia is the source of your pain. | KatarzynaBialasiewicz/iStock/Getty Images

There are commercials advertising fibromyalgia medications on a regular basis. So how is it that this bout of musculoskeletal pain is hard to diagnose? Shapiro tells CNN that fibromyalgia is often diagnosed when the source of the patients’ symptoms can’t be identified as coming from any other illness. Moreover, different specialists may diagnose someone with fibromyalgia symptoms as another problem altogether.

Next: The next difficult diagnosis will likely tick you off …

7. Lyme disease

close-up of a female adult tick and a nymph tick on a finger

The symptoms of Lyme are similar to those of many other diseases. | Getty Images

Unfortunately, it takes more than an obvious disease-carrying tick to pinpoint that someone has Lyme. “The variable signs and symptoms of Lyme disease are nonspecific and often are found in other conditions, so diagnosis can be difficult,” Mayo Clinic summarizes. “What’s more, the ticks that transmit Lyme disease also can spread other diseases at the same time.”

Next: These symptoms really can be connected to anything …

8. Hypothyroidism

Woman touching her throat

You may never suspect hypothyroidism is the source of your weight gain and memory loss. | ChesiireCat/iStock/Getty Images

Like many other conditions on our list, having an under-active thyroid can have symptoms easily attributed to other maladies. The weight gain, fatigue, and memory loss may be contributed to other problems such as fibromyalgia or even depression, Shapiro tells CNN. Additionally, hypothyroidism is more prevalent in seniors, and the symptoms can be mistakenly attributed to simply getting older.

Next: There’s a reason Dr. House always had a problem with this one …

9. Lupus

doctor writing on a medical chart.

There’s often a chest rash with lupus, but not always. | Bojan89/iStock/Getty Images

The problem with lupus is that the symptoms can be incredibly varied and affect different parts of the body, making it more difficult to pinpoint. CNN tells us that testing and diagnosis for lupus can be a lengthy process, and if a patient doesn’t have the common chest rash that many individuals develop, diagnosis can be even harder.

Next: This next one will shock you …

10. Migraines

Man sitting with his elbows on his knees and his head in his hands

It seems surprising, but migraines are often hard to diagnose. | iStock.com

This probably sounds crazy to you — how can a migraine be hard to pinpoint? “One problem in diagnosing migraines is that a headache is often a symptom of another problem. For example, high blood pressure can cause headaches,” TruDenta tells us. “Symptoms can also vary from one migraine event to the next in the same person.”

Next: Difficulty diagnosing this next one is truly terrifying …

11. Appendicitis

man sitting on the bad, clutching his stomach

If your appendix bursts, it can cause a life-threatening infection. | iStock/Getty Images

“Some people have an appendix that points backward instead of forward in the body, so the symptoms present in a different location,” Shapiro tells CNN. This becomes especially problematic is the appendix ruptures without the individual realizing it, because of life-threatening infection can develop inside the abdominal cavity.

Next: Your background may play a part in seeing symptoms …

12. Polycystic ovary syndrome

woman fastening her pants

Noticing unexpected weight gain? It could be this condition. | iStock.com/monkeybusinessimages

PCOS has a number of regular symptoms like unexplained weight gain and difficulty getting pregnant. But there are also very specific symptoms that doctors look for when diagnosing this hormone imbalance, and those don’t always show up. CNN explains that enlarged ovaries and irregular facial hair growth can be symptoms, but that women of certain ethnic backgrounds may not show the same physical symptoms.

Next: Another female reproductive illness …

13. Endometriosis

young woman lying on her side clutching her stomach

Menstrual cramping and pelvic pain are just a few symptoms. | iStock.com/AndreyPopov

This condition, in which uterine tissue grows inside a woman’s uterus, has some broad symptoms like menstrual cramping and heavy bleeding. A diagnosis can be found more readily if a woman has more specific symptoms such as pelvic pain, but extensive tests still have to be done in order to nail down a firm diagnosis.

Next: You’d better clear your schedule if you think you have this disease …

14. Inflammatory bowel disease

Doctor Using Ultrasound Scan On Abdomen Of Senior Male Patient

Other diseases need to be ruled out before a doctor gives this diagnosis. | AndreyPopov/Getty Images

The problem with IBD isn’t necessarily that it’s hard to diagnose. But as Shapiro tells CNN, doctors typically have to rule out other potential diseases before concluding that a patient has IBD. It can take a whole slew of negative tests and determining the patient has nothing else before a diagnosis of IBD can be made.

Next: Last, but not least …

15. Cluster headaches

man holding his head in pain

These are uncommon, making them even harder to diagnose. | iStock.com

Like with migraines, cluster headaches — where severe headaches occur within less than an hour of each other — can be difficult to diagnose because of their symptoms. Additionally, cluster headaches are somewhat rare, making them a common target for getting misdiagnosed and mistreated.

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