Getting the Right Diagnosis…and Not Missing It!


By Nancy Muller, PhD
Executive Director of the National Association For Continence

The most common medical error is patient misdiagnosis. Misdiagnosis causes incorrect interventions or decisions, unnecessary adverse events, wasted expenses, lost time and possible progression of an unchecked disease or condition. This medical error is not only an error in judgment by a physician. It can stem from mislabeled laboratory results or from incorrect or incomplete information from the patient themselves.

The National Association For Continence (NAFC) conducted a nation wide survey of women, ages 18 and older, in 2004. Twenty percent of women reported having symptoms of stress urinary incontinence (leaking when sneezing, laughing or coughing) but were prescribed prescription drugs for overactive bladder. As expected, these drugs had no effect on their symptoms. There are many possibilities for this misdiagnosis. Did these women accurately record a bladder diary and share their experiences with their doctor? Did these women communicate the need to use the toilet frequently with out including that bladder leakage occurred when stress was put on their pelvic floor?

Here are some tips to help your doctor diagnose you:

  1. Get educated. Learn all you can about your symptoms and what you suspect could be your diagnosis. Be sure you identify and separate widely held myths from science-based facts.
  2. Get familiar with your anatomy and how it is supposed to function.
  3. Keep track of what is happening. Write down when you experience episodes of pain, discomfort or other symptoms. Record what you were doing or have just done when the episodes occur. Be sure to include the time, date and frequency of events.
  4. Learn the vocabulary about your condition and practice how you are going to describe or express what you are experiencing.
  5. Find a doctor who is open to dialogue with you and takes the time for this exchange, respecting and wanting your input in the process of both diagnosis and shared decision making afterwards in deciding on a treatment plan.
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