Health issues in the news can lead to incorrect self-diagnoses—and even a misdiagnosis by a doctor. Here’s what you need to know to get the right information and the right treatment.
A spate of celebrities may swear otherwise, but gluten isn’t the devil. In fact, one recent study found that 86 percent of people who thought they had a gluten sensitivity—characterized by gastrointestinal issues like bloating, diarrhea, joint pain, fatigue, and “brain fog”—didn’t actually have one. Only around 6 percent of the population has a sensitivity to this protein found in wheat and many processed foods, while a very small 1 percent have celiac disease. So, if it’s not gluten, what is it? Some possibilities include lactose or fructose intolerance, an overgrowth of bacteria in the small intestine, gastroparesis from diabetes, IBS, or another underlying health condition.
According to a study published in JAMA Network Open, while one in five people thinks they have a food allergy, only around one in 10 actually does. Instead, your symptoms—often gastrointestinal ones—may be the result of a food intolerance. While that may seem like semantics, it’s an important distinction: A food intolerance may lead to discomfort and problems like diarrhea and cramping, but a true food allergy could lead to hives, a swollen tongue and throat, trouble breathing, vomiting, chest pain, and, as a result, even death. Allergy testing can differentiate between the two, and you may need to carry an EpiPen for lifesaving treatment.
Is your splitting headache actually a migraine? Probably not. “It is only really seen in about 12 percent of people,” says Amir H. Barzin, DO, UNC School of Medicine Assistant Professor, Family Medicine. “A migraine is usually associated with nausea and/or light or sound sensitivity and usually goes through stages.” Those stages include irritability, depression, or euphoria up to 48 hours before a migraine; seeing bright circles or hearing ringing in your ears; the throbbing headache itself; and subsequent exhaustion. Migraine or not, it’s a good idea to figure out what’s causing your headaches, especially if they’re recurring. Dr. Barzin suggests creating a headache log: “A patient can write down when they have their headaches, what they are doing, the foods they ate, any possible triggers (stress, loud noises, bright lights), how long the headache lasts, any treatments tried and the effectiveness of the treatments.”
Studies suggest that ADHD is overdiagnosed in children, and this can be a problem with adults as well. Characterized by inattention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity, true ADHD often impacts work and relationships, according to WebMD, and a diagnosis requires the presence of multiple symptoms. “Depression is more common in the general population,” says Dr. Wang, “and its signs—such as chronic forgetfulness, difficulty concentrating, lack of motivation, mood swings, low self-esteem, procrastination, substance abuse, and workplace issues—are also seen in adult ADHD.” He suggests seeing your doctor before jumping to any conclusions. Other possibilities for ADHD-like behavior can include anxiety, undetected seizures, thyroid problems, drug or alcohol use, and even sudden life changes.
Does your doctor think that you have bipolar disorder because of your extreme mood and energy fluctuations—or is it because there’s a medication available to treat it? Some researchers believe the answer is the latter: A study in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry suggests that less than half of the people diagnosed with bipolar disorder should have been. This can be a problem since the medications used to treat it can increase the risk of developing high cholesterol and diabetes, among other health issues. Other conditions that exhibit bipolar-like symptoms include depression, anxiety, ADHD, borderline personality disorder, metabolic or brain disorders, and substance abuse.
By Dawn Yanek/ rd. Com