The truth? Your doctor can, and probably will, be wrong sometimes, and there’s very little you can do to stop this. That is, other than protecting yourself with knowledge. Learn about some of the most common misdiagnoses below, and what you can about them, so you can potentially avoid unnecessary treatments, (particularly surgery) and feel better faster.
Misdiagnosis 1: Allergies
What it actually might be:
Doctors usually blame congestion, watery eyes, and serious bouts of sneezing on allergies, but unless you recently moved or changed jobs, it’s rare to develop allergies in your 20s and 30s. Instead, your symptoms may be the result of vasomotor rhinitis, a condition triggered by nonallergen irritants, such as perfume, smog, and cigarette smoke, that inflame your nasal mucous membranes, says Patricia Wheeler, M.D., an associate professor of family medicine at the University of Louisville. The allergy medicines you’re prescribed won’t provide relief.
Ask Your Doctor: For a skin-prick test to identify any allergies. If the results are negative, ask to go over potential triggers with your doctor.
Misdiagnosis 2: Torn Meniscus
What it actually might be: Iliotibial-band friction syndrome
The average doctor’s first step in diagnosing severe knee pain is an MRI. The test is so sensitive that it almost always reveals tears in the meniscus, the cartilage in your knee joint. “Nine times out of 10, it’s normal wear and not the source of the pain,” says Ronald Grelsamer, M.D., an orthopedic surgeon at Mt. Sinai Hospital of New York. Surgical treatment “will lead away from the real problem.” An MRI won’t reveal injuries to your IT band—fibers stretching from your hip to your knee—a source of knee pain that’s treated with physical therapy or orthotics.
Ask Your Doctor: For an Ober’s test, a physical exam that reveals injuries to the IT band.
Misdiagnosis 3: Sinus Headache
What it actually could be: Migraines
Researchers at the American Headache Society examined 100 people with brain pain and found 86 percent of those who thought they had sinus headaches actually had migraines. “If a doctor hears ‘facial pressure,’ he’ll assume sinus headache,” says Craig Schwimmer, M.D., an otolaryngologist in Dallas, Texas. But sinus meds can’t defeat the heavyweight of headaches.