Medical Misdiagnosis Statistics

On Behalf of | Jul 12, 2017 | Medical Malpractice

People make mistakes; that’s just part of being human. However, when those mistakes lead to injury, illness, or even death, it’s more than just a simple mistake. Although doctors are indeed human, they are held to a higher standard when it comes to making mistakes because usually there is someone’s life hanging in the balance. They are also highly trained to identify, diagnose, and treat illnesses and conditions. So, when a doctor makes a diagnosis mistake, it can be devastating and it could land him or her in hot water.

The Scope of Misdiagnosis

It is estimated that nearly 100,000 people die each year because of mistakes that their hospital makes while they are a patient or in its care. It is also believed that most people will experience at least one delayed medical diagnosis or misdiagnosis during the course of their lifetime. This amounts to approximately 12 million Americans who will suffer a diagnostic error in a single year. Of the American adults who seek outpatient care, around 5% will be misdiagnosed. It is further believed that misdiagnosis and diagnostic errors make up about 10% of patient deaths and 17% of patient adverse advents in hospital settings.

It is also worth noting that misdiagnosis is the most common type of medical malpractice claim paid and they are almost twice as likely to have caused the death of a patient as opposed to other types of malpractice claims. In the US, misdiagnosis is the third leading cause of death.

Most Common Misdiagnosed Conditions

Any condition can be misdiagnosed. A patient can go to the doctor with an injured ankle. The doctor may diagnose it as a bad sprain only to find weeks later that there was a broken bone or torn ligament. A sinus infection can be misdiagnosed as a migraine. A psychiatrist may diagnose a patient with bipolar disorder only to learn later that they actually had Asperger’s Syndrome. While these conditions may not necessarily be in the high-risk category for misdiagnosis, they can cause significant problems for the patient.

The patient with the ankle injury may sustain severe tissue damage and exacerbate the original injury because of the misdiagnosis. The patient with the sinus infection that was misdiagnosed as migraine may experience severe illness or even get sepsis as a result. The patient with Asperger’s Syndrome who was misdiagnosed with bipolar disorder may take medications for years that do nothing to help and may even increase certain problems like anxiety, depression, even suicidal thoughts.

The most common conditions that are misdiagnosed are:


The Journal of Clinical Oncology reports that cancer is misdiagnosed up to 28% of the time but with certain types of cancer, that number jumps to 44%. Melanoma, breast cancer, lymphoma, and sarcomas top the list for most misdiagnosed.


While the classic symptoms of depression are sadness, irritability, lack of motivation, and anxiety, different people experience depression differently. The doctor should do a physical exam and take a complete history before being to establish a diagnosis.

Heart Attack

Symptoms of a heart attack can vary widely among different people – and some don’t have any symptoms at all. Women are commonly misdiagnosed because they don’t have the classic heart attack symptoms.

Thyroid Condition

Thyroid disease can cause a hormonal imbalance in the body. Too little of the thyroid hormone is hypothyroidism while too much is hyperthyroidism. Symptoms such as muscle pain, fluctuating weight, fatigue, and weakness can make it difficult to diagnose without a blood test.

Celiac Disease

It is estimated that more than 80% of people who have celiac disease have been misdiagnosed with other conditions or are still undiagnosed. Part of the reason is that the symptoms vary so much from patient to patient. Irritable bowel syndrome is one of the most common misdiagnoses of celiac disease.

Lyme Disease

A tick bite is responsible for the bacterial infection, Lyme disease. The patient can experience symptoms like fatigue, fever, joint pain, stiffness, and muscle achiness. Patients may go for more than a year before they receive their accurate diagnosis.

Pulmonary Embolism

This is typically caused by a blood clot that blocks the lung’s main artery, pulmonary artery. Common symptoms include anxiety, chest pain, fainting, and shortness of breath, leading doctors to misdiagnose it as pneumonia or heart attack.


The American Heart Association found that misdiagnosis often occurs among young adults with stroke symptoms. The most common misdiagnoses are migraine, vertigo, and alcohol intoxication.


This condition is often misdiagnosed as chronic fatigue syndrome, lupus, and rheumatoid arthritis because of its symptoms of joint pain, muscle pain, anxiety, fatigue, and sleep problems.

Aortic Dissection

This is caused by a tear in the aorta’s wall, allowing the blood to rush through, forcing the aorta’s layers to separate. This condition can be fatal so diagnosing it quickly is very important. Researchers estimate that as much as a third of patients who have aortic dissection were misdiagnosed in the beginning.

If you have been misdiagnosed and think you need an attorney, call us at Kaire & Heffernan and let our caring, experienced attorneys help you.

Mark Kaire has been practicing law in Miami for nearly 15 years. He is dedicated to helping the injured people of Miami receive compensation. Mr. Kaire has been blogging on Miami’s legal issues for 4 years.