It’s challenging to get a proper diagnosis, especially when doctors and specialists can’t figure out what’s wrong. You may go years without getting answers, and it can be frustrating and overwhelming. It’s important to discuss any symptoms you’re feeling with your doctor and push for testing even when they think it’s unnecessary. It may interest you to know most testing for illnesses is done on men until recently, that is. Doctors are pushing for more focus on women’s conditions. We’ve compiled a list of the most undiagnosed illnesses in women. Some women with these illnesses go undiagnosed for years before getting some type of relief.
18. Heart Problems Often Go Unnoticed
Heart problems like heart attacks often go unnoticed because symptoms present differently in women when compared to men (via WebMD). If you have a heart attack, you may notice numbness and chest pain, but women have entirely different symptoms that don’t follow the textbook. While it’s unknown why women experience heart attacks differently than men, it is important to know the signs a woman may experience. Even though some of the symptoms are similar, others could be confused with another illness.
When women experience heart attacks, they often feel symptoms such as fatigue, nausea, as well as back, neck, and jaw pain (via WebMD). These symptoms usually come with chest pain, but that could be easily confused with heartburn. Strangely, women experience heart attacks differently than men, but all women should know these extra symptoms just in case. Women have smaller blood vessels around the heart, which could be a contributing factor. Doctors still use standardized testing for illnesses such as heart attacks and heart disease, designed for men’s hearts. Hopefully, doctors will develop testing for women that can help diagnose heart concerns before they become severe problems.
Your immune system is responsible for protecting your body from germs, bacterial, and viral infections. It can cause various problems for your entire body when you have an autoimmune disease that prevents your immune system from operating correctly. Women are often misdiagnosed for immune system issues due to the variety of illnesses that can affect them. Surprisingly, it takes an average of four years and five doctors to get a proper diagnosis for immune system diseases (via WebMD). That’s a lot of time, patience, money, and suffering to deal with when you’re so frustrated with the doctors who can’t figure out what’s wrong with you.
There are a variety of immune system disorders that can cause many different symptoms. With 75% of autoimmune cases happening to women, you should be vigilant with your symptoms (via WebMD). The American Autoimmune Related Diseases Association did a study to find these shocking percentages. It’s difficult to diagnose autoimmune diseases due to various symptoms such as fatigue, generalized pain, and mood changes. These symptoms could be something else such as depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder, or even a cold. If you experience any of these symptoms, it’s essential to discuss them with your doctor to ensure it’s not something serious.
Endometriosis is a medical condition that causes the uterus lining to grow abnormally. In some cases, women experiencing painful periods are misdiagnosed with something else with endometriosis. The problem lies with the symptoms experienced. Most women experiencing this condition have to see numerous gynecologists to receive an appropriate diagnosis. The most common diagnoses women get when experiencing symptoms of endometriosis are irritable bowel syndrome and even depression. Pelvic pain is the most common symptom of endometriosis, which can often contribute to other conditions (via Yale Medicine). So, doctors often test for other conditions before considering endometriosis.
The most common symptoms experienced with endometriosis include pelvic pain, painful menstrual cycles, nausea, vomiting, painful intercourse, and painful bowel movements. As you can see, these symptoms are vague. Doctors try to stay away from a diagnosis of endometriosis because testing requires surgery (via Yale Medicine). They try to keep you from unnecessary pain and medical bills, so testing for endometriosis is often a last resort. If you have any of these symptoms, it’s important to tell your doctor. You don’t have to just deal with all of the symptoms, thinking it’s just normal to have painful periods.
PCOS or Polycystic Ovary Syndrome is a condition that causes the ovaries to create an abnormal number of androgens, a male hormone that women only produce a small amount of normally. This illness is named for the cysts that form on the ovaries (via Prevention). This condition is one of the most undiagnosed illnesses in women because the symptoms are so vague. Plus, your lab work will often come back as ‘normal,’ leading doctors to believe you have something else going on. The diagnostic criteria for PCOS require at least two symptoms even to be considered a possibility. Without a proper diagnosis, you can go years, believing what you’re experiencing is normal.
Symptoms of PCOS include acne, weight gain, irregular menstrual cycles, and hair growth on the face and body (via Prevention). Your doctor will most likely try to rule out other conditions like hypothyroidism and depression. Your menstrual cycles will become so irregular that you’ll often go months or even years without a period. While this disease still isn’t well understood by doctors, some tests can help diagnose it. Bloodwork can tell doctors whether your hormones are regulated or not. You can also request ultrasounds of your ovaries to look for the telltale “string of pearls.” The string of pearls is the name for the multiple cysts often found in women diagnosed with PCOS. If you’re experiencing any symptoms of PCOS, it’s essential to make an appointment with your gynecologist to discuss treatment options.
Sleep apnea is a dangerous condition that causes you to stop breathing while you’re asleep (via Prevention). Even though this illness occurs more in men, it’s still misdiagnosed in women. Sleep apnea can cause other diseases such as high blood pressure, strokes, and even heart failure, so it’s vital to recognize the symptoms and speak to your doctor if you notice anything odd. If you think you have sleep apnea, talk to your doctor as soon as possible, as sleep apnea can be very dangerous. Many doctors still consider sleep apnea to be a disease only men get, so women aren’t regularly asked how they’re sleeping. It’s a pressing question more doctors should be asking.
If you have sleep apnea, you may notice difficulty sleeping, feeling fatigued or down, weight gain, excessive snoring, and feeling tired even after a whole night’s sleep (via Prevention). Doctors will often take these symptoms and give you a diagnosis for something else entirely because they’re so vague. If you snore, have PCOS, have a family history of sleep apnea, or are overweight, you’re at a higher risk of sleep apnea. If you have any sleep apnea symptoms, there are sleep studies that can be scheduled to find out exactly how many times you stop breathing while you’re asleep. Discuss your symptoms with your doctor and ask if sleep apnea could be the culprit for your symptoms.
There is much awareness around diseases like breast cancer. With so much attention, you’d think this kind of awareness would cause breast cancer to be diagnosed immediately, but that isn’t always the case. Some women aren’t diagnosed until the later stages because of a lack of knowledge and the symptoms. Studies have been performed on people with breast cancer and found that 31% of cases are misdiagnosed (via Prevention). So, what’s the problem? Why does something as serious as cancer get a misdiagnosis? The problem lies with diagnostics. It can be difficult to find cancer in the early stages, especially with certain types of breast cancer.
Symptoms of breast cancer include pain, lumps, redness, swelling, flaky skin, and discharge from the breasts (via Prevention). With all of these symptoms associated with the breasts themselves, you’d think diagnosing breast cancer would be a pretty simple process. That’s not always the case, however. Even women who get routine care and mammograms aren’t always safe. In some cases, breast cancer isn’t found in mammograms, and lumps don’t always form. If nothing is found during routine testing, women may have breast cancer, and their doctor may shrug it off as regular bodily changes. It’s vital to know the symptoms of breast cancer and perform regular at-home breast exams to ensure your safety from this sometimes-devastating disease.
It’s troubling that there are no diagnostic tests specifically for ovarian cancer. Symptoms can start rapidly, leading to a severe case of ovarian cancer. Plus, it doesn’t help that the symptoms are vague. If you’re concerned about your risk of ovarian cancer or have a family history of it, be sure to speak with your doctor to see what you can do. Even blood testing doesn’t give doctors accurate information to provide a proper diagnosis. The American Cancer Society has studied the subject and found that only 20% of ovarian cancer is located at an early stage (via Prevention).
Symptoms of ovarian cancer vary between women and can affect various parts of the body, which is why it’s difficult to detect. These symptoms may include pain in the pelvis or abdomen, a lump in the stomach, nausea, feeling full, bloating, weight loss, indigestion, fatigue, and loss of appetite. If you have a combination of these symptoms or feel a painful lump in your abdomen, it’s critical to speak with your doctor immediately. This type of cancer can come on rather quickly, leading to severe symptoms and even death. If you’re at risk for ovarian cancer, ask your doctor for a CAT scan or MRI of your abdomen to be sure (via Prevention).
Women often go misdiagnosed for years for ADHD because the diagnostic criteria are outdated. Women are great at hiding symptoms of ADHD and may brush it off as anxiety. ADHD can present in various ways that make you think it could be something else as well. Most doctors believe ADHD presents only at an early age, but that isn’t always the case. It can be present throughout your life. The diagnostic criteria for this illness need to be updated to include it presenting at any age. If you’re concerned about the possibility of having ADHD, please speak to your doctor and voice your concerns. There is testing available to help decipher your symptoms.
Symptoms of ADHD in women include feeling stressed out, feelings of inadequacy, low self-esteem, feelings of distress, trouble concentrating, perfectionism, and more (via Very Well Mind). Any combination of these symptoms will lead to a diagnosis of ADHD in women. Various things cause ADHD, including environmental factors, low birth weight, brain injury, and premature delivery. ADHD is treated using medications such as antidepressants and stimulants, as well as therapy (via Very Well Mind). Your doctor will discuss your options for treatment combinations and decide which works best for you. If you have any of the symptoms of ADHD, it’s essential to talk with your doctor and tell them what you’re feeling. You don’t have to feel the symptoms anymore, and they can be treated to help maximize your quality of life.
The problem with lupus is that it mimics a variety of other diseasing, making a proper diagnosis difficult for doctors. It can imitate rheumatoid arthritis, connective tissue diseases, rosacea, fibromyalgia, thyroid diseases, and more (via CDC). So, you can see why getting a proper diagnosis for it might be difficult. If you’re concerned with symptoms you’re experiencing, it’s always important to speak with your doctor as soon as possible. It also doesn’t hurt to ask for a second opinion if your doctor isn’t taking you seriously. As an autoimmune disease, lupus causes your body to attack itself, leading to various symptoms that affect all parts of the body.
Lupus can affect your brain, heart, lungs, skin, blood cells, joints, and kidneys (via CDC). Be on the lookout for fever, rash, joint pain, and fatigue symptoms. Lupus doesn’t have a cure, and you may experience flare-ups even with treatment. The treatment for lupus includes anti-inflammatory medications, steroids, limiting sun exposure, and lifestyle modifications. You can minimize flare-ups with a combination of treatments. Don’t be afraid to ask for a second opinion if you feel your symptoms are more than your doctor is treating you for. Changing your diet to include plenty of fruits and vegetables, along with meats, can also help to reduce symptoms. If you’re diagnosed with lupus, ask your doctor what you can do at home to reduce flare-ups.
9. Fibromyalgia Is a Misunderstood Autoimmune Disease
Fibromyalgia is another autoimmune disease that can affect all parts of the body. Doctors don’t widely understand it, and women often get misdiagnosed. Treatment is available to help control symptoms, but this is another disease you’ll have for the rest of your life. Conditions that mimic fibromyalgia include rheumatoid arthritis, sleep apnea, lupus, and thyroid diseases. As you can see, diagnosis can go wrong for various reasons. Since it isn’t widely understood, doctors often go for a diagnosis of something else while they try to figure out what’s going on.
Fibromyalgia symptoms include pain in the neck, thighs, hip, and back, problems with memory and concentration, dizziness, or dry eyes (via CDC). You may also have problems falling and staying asleep, heightened sensitivity to pain, and chronic fatigue. These symptoms often fall into various categories when it comes to getting a proper diagnosis (via CDC). Hence, doctors tend to test other diseases before they come to a definitive diagnosis. You could go years without an accurate diagnosis. It’s important to tell your doctor all of your symptoms and ask if fibromyalgia is possible. It’s okay to ask questions and tell your doctor what you think it could be.
A stroke occurs when your brain doesn’t get the oxygen and blood necessary to function. Blocked or leaking arteries cause it. There are two main types of strokes – ischemic and hemorrhagic. Surprisingly, women are 33% more likely to be misdiagnosed when having a stroke (via WebMD). This percentage is troubling, to say the least. So, why do women get misdiagnosed? The stroke may be so minor that you won’t even know it’s happening in some cases. You may not even feel any symptoms. It would show up on a CT scan or MRI, but doctors don’t do those unless they have a reason.
In some cases, women going to the emergency room for severe headaches are sent home before pursuing the underlying cause of the headache. Simple symptoms like this one are the reason strokes are so often misdiagnosed (via WebMD). Other symptoms include dizziness, loss of coordination, trouble seeing out of one or both eyes, numbness or weakness on one side of the body, problems with concentration, and difficulty speaking. If you or someone you know has these symptoms, it’s crucial to call 911 immediately. Use the acronym ‘FAST’ to discern whether or not it’s a medical emergency. This stands for face, arms, speech, and time. If it is a stroke, you’ll notice one side of your face drooping. You may have difficulty raising your arms, as well as slurred speech.
If so, you may have celiac disease. Celiac disease is a condition where the body has problems processing gluten. Gluten makes up various foods we eat daily, and you can find gluten in food items such as pasta, bread, cereal, and even beer. Your small intestine is where the problems start with celiac disease. Gluten can’t be processed through the small intestine in people with celiac disease (via Mayo Clinic). So, why is it misdiagnosed in women? The problem lies with the symptoms. Men and women experience different symptoms with celiac disease, making it more challenging to diagnose.
Celiac disease symptoms include nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, gas, bloating, constipation, abdominal pain, fatigue, and weight loss. This variety of symptoms can often be mistaken for something else as simple as an upset stomach. You’ll notice continuing symptoms, especially after eating something containing gluten (via Mayo Clinic). Since gluten causes inflammation in the small intestine, people with celiac disease often feel sick most of the time. The symptoms only go away by removing gluten from your diet. Speak with your doctor if you have any of these symptoms. They can refer you to a nutritionist who will help you design a diet and meal plan without gluten.
Crohn’s disease is a type of inflammatory bowel disease that affects the lining of the digestive tract (via Mayo Clinic). It can lead to serious symptoms that cause various problems in the body. Crohn’s disease is often misdiagnosed in women because the symptoms mimic other conditions related to the bowels. If you have Crohn’s disease symptoms, it’s important to tell your doctor immediately to avoid painful symptoms. Furthermore, women may experience more symptoms than men regarding Crohn’s disease (via Mayo Clinic). It’s possible to go years without a proper diagnosis or a diagnosis for something like irritable bowel syndrome.
Crohn’s disease symptoms include diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, fatigue, and abdominal pain. Bleeding from the rectum, painful menstrual cycles, and painful sex are symptoms women experience more often than men. Studies show women get this disease about the same amount as men, but symptoms can differ drastically. You may go years having Crohn’s disease without any symptoms whatsoever, then one day, the symptoms show up full force. If you’re experiencing these symptoms, it’s vital to talk to your doctor and voice your concerns. Crohn’s disease can’t be cured, but it is treatable with certain medications and possible surgery if necessary.
5. Learn More Information About Rheumatoid Arthritis
Rheumatoid arthritis is another autoimmune disease that affects the joints in the body. Studies show that women are more likely to get autoimmune diseases than men, so why do doctors misdiagnose them for other illnesses? Many things go into getting a proper diagnosis, especially for diseases like rheumatoid arthritis. Many of the symptoms can be attributed to other conditions, so it’s difficult for doctors to diagnose before ruling out everything else. Rheumatoid arthritis is another type of mimicking disease, where the symptoms make it difficult to diagnose. If your doctor suspects rheumatoid arthritis, you’ll be asked to get some blood testing done, and they may do some X-rays of certain joints in your body.
Symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis include pain in the hands, feet, knees, elbows, neck, and back (via Medline Plus). Other signs of RA include swollen joints, fever, fatigue, loss of appetite, joint stiffness, strange pins and needles sensations, redness, and more. The plethora of symptoms makes it extremely difficult to pin down the cause (via Medline Plus). If you think rheumatoid arthritis is the culprit for your pain, ask your doctor for a referral to see a rheumatologist. These specialists can run more tests and find the cause of your symptoms. Don’t be afraid to ask questions or be assertive regarding your health. If you believe something is wrong and you aren’t getting answers, ask for a second opinion.
Chronic pain can be challenging to diagnose because of the differences in symptoms from person to person. It can take three to six months to get a diagnosis and begin treatment (via WebMD). Problems lie in the way pain is experienced on an individual basis. Doctors have to customize treatment plans for each walking through their doors. Whether you’ve been in pain for a few weeks, months, or even years, doctors will have to run a variety of tests to find the cause of your pain. Some testing may include bloodwork, MRIs, X-rays, and CT scans.
Symptoms vary for everyone in chronic pain, but most women experience joint pain, burning pain, muscle aches, irritability, depression, anxiety, problems sleeping, fatigue, and loss of flexibility (via WebMD). If you experience chronic pain that lasts for more than a few days at a time, it’s essential to speak with your doctor. You don’t have to sit at home in agony when treatments are available to ease your symptoms. Treatments for chronic pain include injections, physical therapy, medications such as muscle relaxers, anticonvulsants for nerve pain, antidepressants, acupuncture, and surgery.
Uterine fibroids are noncancerous growths of the uterus. Doctors usually find them in women of childbearing years (via Mayo Clinic). These growths are often felt during pelvic exams but are often missed if the patient isn’t feeling any pain during the exam. Doctors don’t understand uterine fibroids well, so it’s important to know the symptoms and tell your gynecologist if you experience any symptoms. Uterine fibroids can be mistaken for other diseases such as PCOS and endometriosis. If you have a family history of uterine fibroids or other pelvic disorders, speak to your doctor about your risk (via Mayo Clinic).
Certain risk factors play a role in the development of uterine fibroids, including obesity, early-onset puberty, and a family history of fibroids. Symptoms of uterine fibroids include pelvic pain that can become severe, heavy menstrual cycles, and longer than average periods. The treatment for uterine fibroids usually involves removing the fibroid during surgery, but it can be treated with medications and preventative care. If you have uterine fibroids, speak to your doctor to learn more about your options and whether you need surgery for your specific case.
Heart attacks can be perilous. Studies show that women are fifty percent more likely to receive a misdiagnosis for heart attacks (via heart.org). So, why does this happen? Researchers believe it occurs due to misperceptions of what a heart attack patient looks like. Some doctors may have an idea and misdiagnose a woman because she doesn’t fit into their picture. It’s a dangerous way to look at heart attacks, especially since all types of people can have heart attacks, not just people who are obese. The University of Leeds in the United Kingdom found that 100 women per day were diagnosed with heart attacks in local hospitals. That’s a high number, but it doesn’t account for misdiagnosed people.
It’s essential to know the signs and symptoms of a heart attack, as well as the risk factors. Symptoms of a heart attack in women include shortness of breath, pain in the jaw, neck, back, and arms, pain or pressure in the chest, nausea, cold sweats, and even lightheadedness (via heart.org). If you experience any of these symptoms, call 911 immediately. It may just save your life! Risk factors for heart attacks include diabetes, obesity, stress, eating an unhealthy diet, and drinking too much alcohol. If you meet these criteria, it is vital to speak with your doctor about your risk and change your habits to ensure safety.
1. Doctors Often Misdiagnose Chronic Fatigue Syndrome in Women
CFS, or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, is a disease that makes you feel exhausted all of the time. Doctors do not understand it well, and this often leads to misdiagnosis. You could have this condition for years without knowing exactly what’s wrong with you. There is no testing for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, so it’s difficult for doctors to diagnose (via Mayo Clinic). They are most likely to diagnose you with something else before concluding that the problem is Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. Your exhaustion with CFS is always worse when doing tasks but doesn’t get better even if you rest.
Symptoms of Chronic Fatigue Syndrome include dizziness, the feeling that rest is never enough, and problems with concentration, memory, and focus. Other signs are swollen lymph nodes, sore throat, headaches, and joint or muscle pain (via Mayo Clinic). While the cause of CFS is unknown, doctors believe a variety of factors causes it. If your doctor suspects Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, they will try to rule out everything else with testing first to ensure a proper diagnosis. If you feel your doctor isn’t giving you the answers you need, it doesn’t hurt to ask for a second opinion. Treatment for Chronic Fatigue Syndrome includes antidepressants, medications for blood pressure, and pain medications. You may also benefit from certain types of therapy.