Misdiagnosis of Arthritis

Arthritis is a common complaint for many, especially as one gets older.  The sufferer doesn’t understand why they have joint pain and thus commits to a battery of procedures including X-rays, MRI’s, blood panels, medical reports, etc.  Sometimes, definitive sources of pain are found and the tests show severe tissue degradation or arthritic markers in the blood. But more commonly, the tests do not reveal sufficient evidence to prove that arthritis is even present.

This situation has played out countless times.  Data wrought with uncertainties leads to a shaky conclusion.  The patient is in pain and is looking for an answer.  The doctor, wanting to ease the patient’s concerns, may be too eager to point a finger at any anomaly found in the test results. The diagnosis of “I don’t know” or “I’m not quite sure” is unacceptable for most patients and the blame is directed at arthritis, a somewhat fuzzy amalgamation of signs and symptoms.  Patients easily accept arthritic pain diagnosis as a byproduct of the aging process, but  more testing is necessary to reveal the true source of the joint pain.

Here are a few reasons why arthritis is often misdiagnosed:

  • Doctors see something atypical in an x-ray – and immediately make a diagnosis.  No body is perfect.  There are abnormalities and variances in every human being’s anatomical structure.  Even movement and joint articulation will vary from person to person.  Finding an aberrant nodule or lesion somewhere in the joint capsule does not mean that arthritis is present.  Saying this, one must consider the idea that x-rays from two individuals showing the same joint abnormality may not create identical pain responses. Moreover, the two people may show considerable difference in the amount and type of pain elicited, even so far as to say that one may not show any local pain whatsoever.  Therefore, x-rays should be used as one part of a complete diagnostic exam, not the be all end all.  Especially in marginal to inconclusive scenarios, x-rays should accompany other positive test findings to make a more developed diagnosis.  Each patient should be evaluated on an individual basis.
  • Patients don’t get a second opinion – and rely on one doctor’s diagnosis.  Doctors make mistakes.  It is quite possible for an arthritis diagnosis to be incorrect, especially when symptoms do not fully fit the criteria of rheumatism.  The chances of a misdiagnosis are reduced if a second (or even third) opinion is sought out.  Additionally, patients should make an assessment of their doctor.  Pay attention to how they are being treated in his/her office.  If the doctor seems preoccupied, doesn’t listen, never tests the painful area, quickly prescribes medication, then maybe this doctor isn’t providing adequate patient care and attention.  Find a doctor who will listen.  Yes, some doctors may be good enough to take one look at the patient and figure out what’s wrong.  But these doctors are very few and far between.
  • Age is a believable reason for arthritis – Age is so often used as an excuse for joint pain that it goes without question.  It’s a sad affair that keeps perpetuating generation after generation.  Age is not the unquestionable cause of all joint pain.  Joint pain can be caused by numerous factors, including muscular imbalance, bone subluxation, inactivity, and postural deficiencies as well as the often stated age-related joint deterioration.  Uncovering the true source of pain is key to understanding what is truly wrong.

These are just a few thoughts on why arthritis gets misdiagnosed.  In order to lessen the risk of misdiagnosis, the patient should take a hands-on active approach to personal health.  It is always the responsibility of the patient to become an advocate for their own health, not the doctor’s.  It is also the responsibility of the patient to learn about their own pain.  Ask questions from your doctor.  Find groups with people experiencing similar conditions.  Learn what helps one’s own joint pain and what eases it. In this age of information, there are a lot of resources online.  Visit the doctor armed with some knowledge and understanding of the pain in question. It will go a long way towards achieving an accurate diagnosis and thus, a more comprehensive, effective solution.

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