Doctors share misdiagnosis stories: Why it’s important to seek a second opinion

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Though they work hard to do great work, there are times when doctors have made mistakes they could not take back. Here's what parents can learn from them.

We trust doctors with our pressing concerns, but they make mistakes, too. And while we appreciate their expertise and respect their skills, it never hurts to seek a second opinion, especially when it comes to the health and welfare of the ones we love.

Here are some stories of doctor misdiagnoses and what parents can learn from them.

A doctor on Reddit shared how he treated a 9-year-old for Bronchitis. The girl's parents had brought her to the hospital because of fever, coughing, and wheezing. Distracted by another patient, he was stunned when the child starting sobbing and throwing up everywhere. Responding to the symptoms, thinking it was an effect of fever, he continued treating her. She died an hour later. It turns out that she had Neisseria meningitides, or Meningococcal disease, which is a serious, contagious infection. The doctor didn't notice the stiff neck or subtle seizures that are characteristic of the disease. She could have been saved by the right round of antibiotics.

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photo: dreamstime

One doctor recalled a mistake he made when he was just a surgical resident. Though it was not his first surgery, he made a grave mistake when operating on an 8-year-old boy's forearm, he had nicked a nearby nerve, damaging it as well as the boy's dreams of becoming a violinist one day.

The same doctor shared how a friend of his had misdiagnosed a woman with splenitis when she in fact had an ectopic pregnancy. They later found out that a mistake had been made, but it was too late. She died from internal bleeding shortly after.

Though not a doctor, one reddit user shared how his father had been misdiagnosed by a trusted doctor. His father had been suffering from chest pain, so he was brought to the hospital. The doctor diagnosed it as simple heartburn without any tests, then sent them home with medication. The next day, his father suffered a fatal heart attack.

Another case we came across, was that of a pediatric surgeon, who had been tasked to care for two premature newborns. While one had been thriving well, the other seemed like a hopeless case. He had to inform the families of each baby about both good and bad news. The trouble is, he mixed the families up. He had told the family of the healthy baby that their little one was hours from death, while he unintentionally gave false hopes to the family of the dying newborn. He had to take back the good news and deliver the bad, he expressed how devastated he was.

As a parent, it would greatly help to be proactive in learning about possible medical concerns. Read up, do your research, and ask questions constantly from trusted friends and medical professionals.

Here are the most common misdiagnoses in children.

1. Inattention or short attention span

It's misdiagnosed as ADHD (attention deficit hyperactive disorder) because it's one of the three top symptoms of the disorder, along with impulsivity and hyperactivity.

"The kid who is inattentive could be inattentive because he has ADHD," psychologist Steven Kurtz tells Child Mind. "Or he could be inattentive because he is worried about his grandmother who’s sick in the hospital, or because he’s being bullied on the playground and the next period is recess."

Other possibilities you can consult your pediatrician about are Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), or learning disorders, such as Dyslexia.

2. Limited or restricted speech

Though autism is a common diagnosis, especially at 2 to 3 years of age, it could help to look at other possible diagnoses like selective mutism, an anxiety disorder resulting in delayed speech or choosing to be more talkative in certain situations.

Remember: there is a difference between a performance deficit and a skills deficit. So make sure to ask your child's pedia about this.

3. Exhaustion, distractedness, or sadness

Though it's natural to assume this is purely emotional and can be corrected with rest and nutrition, it's worth exploring more uncommon possibilities, like hypothyroidism, a hormone deficiency that causes these symptoms along with weight gain. It could also be OCD, or other anxiety disorders that could be causing this behavior.

4. Temper tantrums

If your child is constantly interrupting or behaving in a disruptive manner, pediatricians will naturally look into oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), which manifests in hostility and defiance. But ODD can usually be confirmed after 6 months of such behavior. For short-term outbursts, perhaps it could be linked to anxiety disorders OCD, ADHD, and learning disorders.

Don't hesitate to be open with your pediatrician about your own concerns. Make them a partner in fighting for your child's health and well-being. But remember, it takes a village to raise a child, and multiple opinions from trained professionals to raise a healthy one.

sources: Reddit, ChildMind.org

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