What to do When Doctors Can't Diagnose You



September 10, 2020

You expect to leave the doctor’s with a plan of action when you come with a clear list of symptoms. 

But how often does that happen? 

What if your doctor doesn't know what's wrong with you? 

It may just take some time for your doctor to put together the pieces to provide you a plan to get better, but there are also times where your doctor may not be able to diagnose you. 

Reasons Why a Doctor Can’t Diagnose You

Despite the technological advancements in medicine, there are many different reasons why a doctor would be unable to reach a diagnosis:

  • The symptoms may be difficult to identify, such as a headache. Symptoms like this could be caused by stress or part of a much larger problem. 

  • The patient may have more than one medical problem, making the diagnosis process more confusing. 

  • The cause of the symptom may not be clear, leading the patient to see the wrong specialist and delaying a diagnosis.

  • The patient may be taking drugs or supplements that cause conflicts. 

  • There may not be a definitive test used to determine a diagnosis, causing the doctor to combine tests or symptoms to get an answer. 

  • The medical problem may be one that is uncommon for the age of the patient. For example, lung cancer in a younger person is very unusual, therefore the doctor might not consider that as a diagnosis. 

  • The patient might have a rare disease that only few medical professionals know about. This is when seeking multiple opinions will be beneficial because there are thousands of rare diseases that only few doctors know about or have had experience with. 

  • The patient is not being truthful to their doctor. If a patient claims they do not drink alcohol but they do and are complaining about pain in the region of their liver, their doctor might eliminate the possibility of alcohol-related conditions, like cirrhosis of the liver.

What to do when doctors can’t diagnose you

1. Tell your whole story. 

Make sure that you tell your doctor about all your symptoms before they interrupt you with their own thoughts. If your doctor seems to be in a rush or does not seem to be listening to you, then there will be a greater risk of you being misdiagnosed. Give your doctor the information they need to make an informed diagnosis.

2. Keep a journal of your symptoms. 

Some illnesses are difficult to diagnose in the early stages because they develop over time. You should keep a journal of all your symptoms, diet, and any health and medical details so that you can help your doctor figure out if there are any illnesses developing. 

3. Understand your family’s medical history. 

If there is an illness that runs in your family, then it will shed light on your current health situation or risks. Asking your family members about their medical history may give your doctor the information they need to reach a diagnosis. 

4. Be honest

Hiding information about your lifestyle habits such as smoking, diet, exercise, or drug  use can prevent your doctor from making an informed diagnosis. Along with that, you could be at harm if they prescribe you medication without knowing your full medication list. Everything that is discussed during a doctors appointment is confidential. Don’t withhold any information.

5. Understand that there might be uncertainty

Although we always expect to leave the doctors office with an answer, we shouldn’t push for a diagnosis when the doctor is unsure. After all, it's better that your doctor admits that they are unable to provide you with an accurate diagnosis as opposed to giving you a misdiagnosis which may worsen your symptoms.

6. Get a second opinion

Patients often do not look for a second opinion in fear of offending or upsetting their primary care doctor. Good doctors will welcome other professional opinions, especially if they are having trouble finding a diagnosis. If your doctor is against your seeking more opinions, it may be a sign that you should get a new doctor. Additionally, sometimes you may have to go through multiple doctors who have the right experience to get to the root cause of your symptoms. Getting a second opinion will guide you to an appropriate treatment.