What are the most common misdiagnosed illnesses?

On Behalf of | Oct 4, 2021 | Medical malpractice |

It would seem like getting a diagnosis should be straightforward with advanced medical technology. However, stats show 225,000 patients die yearly when a doctor deviates from the accepted standard of care. There are many reasons illnesses get misdiagnosed in North Dakota, but some conditions have a higher risk.


Cancer ranks number one in the top misdiagnosed diseases, accounting for slightly over 37% of medical malpractice claims. Lymphoma, a disease of the body’s defense system, is the top misdiagnosed form of cancer, which can mimic colds or nonfatal infections.

Lung cancer is especially tricky to diagnose because it often develops slowly and may mimic asthma or bronchitis. Skin cancer can mimic several nonfatal skin conditions, which include psoriasis, eczema, and benign tumors.

Vascular events

The second among the “big three” most misdiagnosed diseases is a vascular event such as a stroke, making up 22.8% of cases. Younger people 45 and under are at seven times greater risk of getting a stroke misdiagnosed, though they present the usual symptoms.

Some common symptoms include confusion, balance issues, a weakened side of a limb or the face, fainting, or intense headaches. Women have a 33% risk of getting a stroke misdiagnosed and minorities are at a 20 to 30 % risk of a stroke misdiagnosis.


Infections are the third group of illnesses in the “big three” category, making up about 13% of cases. Lyme disease, an infection caused by ticks, often produces symptoms such as fatigue, fever, and muscle or joint pain. A primary sign of Lyme disease is a bull’s eye rash, but it may not be present.

Another misdiagnosed infection is a spinal abscess, which compresses the spinal cord, gets missed around 62% of the time. It gets missed because it is a very rare condition, and doctors may not think to check for it.

Medical errors have devastating consequences, but they are seldom intentional. Not every mistake constitutes medical malpractice, and the patient must prove the doctor breached its duty of care and that such breach caused harm.