Danger! When the Diagnosis Is Wrong

Most of us trust medical professionals to guide us through the process of healing our health issues, but what happens when there’s a misdiagnosis? From personal experience, I know it’s possible.

As I wrote in my book, The Relentless Courage of a Scared Child, when I was 37 years old, my sisters told me my father was dying. His symptoms sounded like a case of dementia, and he had already been diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease. When I went to my husband, Daniel, for support, he insisted on assessing my father and scanning his brain to confirm that the diagnosis was correct. What a ride we were about to embark upon—one that would change my entire outlook on health. 

Most of us trust medical professionals to guide us through the process of healing our health issues, but what happens when there’s a misdiagnosis? From personal experience, I know it’s possible. Click To Tweet

Nailing Down the Correct Diagnosis

Imagine my surprise when, after Daniel assessed my father and scanned his brain, he gave us the news that my father had been misdiagnosed after all. He didn’t have Alzheimer’s; he had pseudodementia, which is a severe depression that can be confused with Alzheimer’s disease.

My father isn’t alone. Studies show that Alzheimer’s disease is misdiagnosed in approximately 2 out of 10 cases. And men are more likely to be wrongly diagnosed with the dreaded condition.

With pseudodementia, the issue can be caused by a toxic combination of medications—so, in my father’s case, he was taking medications that made him worse, not better.

“My gosh, I haven’t seen this drug combination since the ’70s,” Daniel said at the time. “We need to get your dad off all this stuff and get him well.”

Before I knew it, Daniel convinced me to allow my dad to move in with us, and Daniel and I immediately started working on the best treatment plan. After all, it’s been shown that you can help protect the well-being of your brain by taking preventative health measures and adding some healthy habits to your routine, so we got him exercising, eating clean, and taking the right medicines and supplements.

The process was tedious at first, but as he felt better, his progress picked up pace. Dad lost 20 pounds, and his symptoms of depression, with which he had struggled his entire life, were subsiding. He told us his mind now felt bright and focused in a way he’d never experienced before. He discovered a renewed sense of faith, purpose, and self-understanding.

My father’s new and improved health status even allowed him to start leading a Bible study, and he even conducted a full-blown seminar at his church—a 7-hour event in front of a packed room. He’d gone from Alzheimer’s recluse to seminar leader in 6 months. And, over the next year and a half, Dad’s mental health continued to improve. 

Taking Charge of My Own Health

Not long after we got my father on a better health track, I got the bad news that my thyroid cancer had returned. Initially, the plan was to do a third surgery, but I wasn’t a good surgical candidate. My thyroid medication was increased to induce hyperthyroidism and suppress the cancer, but the meds made me miserable—wired and tired. I couldn’t sleep at night, and I was exhausted all day. My heart raced. I felt anxious. I worried that my depression would return. But, when I spoke to my doctor about my concerns, he flippantly told me that I should probably talk to a psychiatrist.

By then, I knew that MD doesn’t stand for “minor deity,” and I didn’t need to treat this doctor as a god whose word was gospel—or as a punishing parent who might send me to my room if I disobeyed. “You’re going to need to remain on this medication at this level for the rest of your life,” he said. “In essence, it’s your chemotherapy. There are side effects like rapid heart rate and anxiety—also thinning hair and bone- and muscle-wasting over time. You’ll need regular bone scans, and you may need medication for osteoporosis in the future. In the meantime, you should stop practicing martial arts and take it easy in your workouts—maybe practice yoga instead. And I’m serious about talking to a psychiatrist. The sooner you accept the situation and stop fighting it, the sooner you will find peace.”

I was put on several more medications—9, to be exact. Some were to manage my heart rate, some to help the anxiety, some to manage the side effects of the other medications. But then I learned I qualified for an experimental treatment developed by the Mayo Clinic. While my doctor wasn’t sure how effective it would be, it was less risky than the surgery he’d suggested. Plus, it would be administered in a 60-minute office visit, was painless, and seemed to be effective. I wondered why the doctor hadn’t offered that as the first option, and I agreed to do it.

Once done with the treatment, I took charge of my own health journey. I found a new doctor who actually listened to me, and I went on an all-out mission to learn about the healing properties of food, exercise, and supplements. Within a year of radically changing my diet and supplement routine, just as had happened with my father, I felt healthier, sharper, and stronger than I ever had.

Misdiagnosis Can Be a Life-or-Death Issue

Misdiagnosis, while not the norm, does happen. A study published in 2019, undertaken by a research team led by Johns Hopkins Armstrong Institute for Patient Safety and Quality, studied thousands of cases of misdiagnosis. The report noted that, “while estimates vary, likely more than 100,000 Americans die or are permanently disabled each year due to medical diagnoses that initially miss conditions or are wrong or delayed.” 

One Australian study that looked at general practitioners found that so-called diagnostic incidents occurred for a variety of reasons. Some were created by errors in judgment, especially when doctors were forming or evaluating their medical opinions. In other cases, there were issues stemming from improper recording and transfer of information (such as updating medical records), as well as poor communication between patients and health providers—and between the healthcare professionals themselves. All of these, the study concluded, “resulted in less than ideal care.”

The takeaway? Sometimes we need to listen to our bodies, not just medical professionals. In some cases, we may need further testing (as was the case with my father) to rule out illnesses that may be mistaken for others. Though my father later passed away from leukemia, nailing down his correct diagnosis at a crucial time gave him additional years of life he might not have otherwise enjoyed.

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If you’re struggling with memory issues and need professional help, Amen Clinics is here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, remote clinical evaluations, and video therapy for adults, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.

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