Sep 8, 2014
Diseases Doctors Often Get Wrong (Part 3.)
For many migraine sufferers, nothing could be more obvious than the severe headaches, which are usually characterized by intense throbbing or pulsing and can be accompanied by nausea, vomiting, or sensitivity to light and sound. But some people may get migraines without even knowing it, says Fleming.
"Sometimes migraine symptoms can be very severe, where the patient can even develop paralysis, and other times they can be very subtle," he says. "Patients might feel dizzy or lightheaded or feel a vague discomfort in their heads, and oftentimes they'll get treated with medication that might not be appropriate for a true migraine." A neurologist should be able to rule out other possibilities, and make the proper diagnosis.
Another headache disorder that's often misunderstood, cluster headaches are extremely painful but also very rare -- affecting less than 1 million Americans. Cluster headaches tend to occur close together, often on the same day, and last 30 minutes to three hours, on average. Scientists aren't sure why, but cluster headaches tend to occur when seasons change. Because of this, they can sometimes be misdiagnosed as allergy-related sinus headaches.
Hypothyroidism (also known as underactive thyroid) is a condition in which the thyroid gland produces an insufficient amount of the hormones that help regulate weight, energy, and mood. In the early stages, thyroid problem symptoms are subtle and can include fatigue, weight gain, dry skin, muscle aches, and impaired memory.
"It can mimic depression, fibromyalgia, and many other conditions," says Shapiro.
And because hypothyroidism is most common in people (especially women) over 60, it's easy to attribute its symptoms to simply getting older and more out of shape.
Type 2 diabetes can't stay hidden forever; if left untreated, it can cause life-threatening damage to the body's major organs. Before signs of diabetes develop, says Fleming, adults can have diabetes for years without knowing it.
"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. "They won't realize it until it gets severe enough that they start developing side effects, like problems with their vision or numbness in their feet or hands."
To avoid these problems, watch for earlier symptoms like increased thirst or hunger, frequent urination, sudden weight loss, and fatigue.
Inflammatory bowel disease
There are primarily two types of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD): Crohn's disease and ulcerative colitis. Both cause inflammation of the digestive tract, as well as pain, diarrhea, and possibly even malnutrition. Because there's no one test for IBD, however, it is diagnosed primarily by excluding everything else.
"If a patient comes in with severe abdominal pain, we might first think it's their gallbladder," says Shapiro. "If he comes in with loose stools, we might think it's an infection. So we go through a litany of tests -- imaging, blood tests, assessments -- and sometimes we finally come down to the fact that we've ruled out every other possibility, so this is what we're going to treat you for and we'll see if it works."