Some Autoimmune Disease Go Undiagnosed or Misdiagnosed For Decades
A healthy immune system protects the body against foreign invaders like bacteria and viruses. In autoimmune diseases, this defense system is turned on the body instead, causing a host of unpleasant symptoms. These symptoms can often be nondescript, including inflammation and fatigue, and may affect multiple, seemingly unrelated organs and systems. These confounding systems lead many people with autoimmune diseases on a so-called “diagnostic odyssey”: years or even decades of misdiagnosis and delayed treatment. As many as 40 percent of people with autoimmune diseases receive at least one misdiagnosis on their journey to health.
Autoimmune diseases aren’t uncommon as a group, affecting between 5 and 8 percent of the population. But, individual autoimmune diseases can be rare and unfamiliar to doctors, making diagnosis difficult. The symptoms of the conditions heavily overlap with each other and other nonautoimmune conditions like type 2 diabetes. Additionally, some autoimmune diseases cluster, meaning they’re more likely to occur together in the same person. That can result in doctors trying to diagnose a single condition from what are actually the symptoms of two or three different autoimmune diseases. Autoimmune conditions can also cause affect the brain and cause neuropsychiatric symptoms that are misdiagnosed as mental illnesses.