5 Common Misdiagnoses
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More Common MisdiagnosesYou're dizzy and weak during exercise. Whoa, you almost fainted!
What it really is: Low blood sugar (hypoglycemia)
It's easy for doctors to mistake hypoglycemia for dehydration in active people. Dehydration is more common, and it can trick you into thinking you're hungry. With either condition, you feel better after downing juice or a sports drink, but if your blood sugar is low, it's the sugar, not the hydration, that helps. "There's a mistaken belief that healthy people with a normal sugar metabolism cannot exercise to the point of low blood sugar, but they can," Dr. Jones says.
The fix: Keep a food and exercise diary and give your doctor a detailed history of your diet, fluid intake, and workout habits. To avoid episodes, stabilize your blood sugar by eating a snack with protein and fat, such as a banana with peanut butter, two hours before exercising. Also, sip a sports drink or energy gel every 20 to 45 minutes during workouts that last longer than an hour, Dr. Jones advises.You're feeling moody and anxious, you can't focus, and you just want to take a nap. You've also gained weight.
What it really is: Underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism)
When the thyroid gland doesn't produce enough hormones, bodily functions slow down, making you feel sluggish and irritable. "I see this as having been misdiagnosed as depression in many patients who come to me," says Robert McConnell, MD, an endocrinologist at New York Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia. Hypothyroidism can begin in your twenties and thirties, and it occurs after 15 to 20 percent of pregnancies, when it may be mistaken for postpartum depression. Other symptoms include increased sensitivity to cold, thinning hair, dry skin, and constipation. Your general practitioner may run only the most basic thyroid test, which isn't always accurate.
The fix: See an endocrinologist, who will conduct more sensitive tests to determine your levels of thyroid-stimulating hormone (TSH) and another hormone called T4. Ask her to also check your levels of free T3, free T4, total T3, reverse T3, antithyroid antibodies, and sex hormone-binding globulin (SHBG). These help diagnose a low-functioning thyroid, which is often missed by many physicians, according to the National Academy of Hypothyroidism. The condition is typically treated with thyroid hormone-replacement meds, and it takes several months for symptoms to improve.Find Out What's Really Wrong, Stat!
"Lack of time, the misguided use of technology, and poor communication are often to blame for misdiagnoses," says Robert W. Jones Jr., MD, an internist at the Cleveland Clinic Medicine Institute. Take these steps to keep mix-ups to a minimum.
Choose a doctor who spends a lot of time with you.
If your MD is overbooked, he's more likely to make a hasty call, Dr. Jones says. Search for a new one on Zocdoc.com, where you can check out reviews from other patients.
Step away from Google.
A 2012 Pew Research Center study found that 40 percent of women self-diagnosed online, and then 55 percent of them followed up with a doctor. That's dangerous because you may report only the symptoms that confirm your own assumptions. Keep a diary of all your symptoms, make a list of questions, and bring both to your appointment.
Don't skip follow-up visits.
"Doctors often need to monitor symptoms and try different treatments to make a correct diagnosis," Dr. Jones explains. "Make sure your physician is asking appropriate, probing questions about your problem and how you're responding to treatment, as well as listening to your answers and explaining the next steps in a way you understand." Don't be shy about speaking up if what he's telling you doesn't seem quite right.
Originally published in FITNESS magazine, May 2013.
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