Emphysema and misdiagnosis: Why it goes undiagnosed

On Behalf of | Jul 3, 2018 | failure to diagnose

As someone who has smoked for many years, you knew that you were in trouble when the link to cancer and other illnesses was finally made. You’d struggled with weakness and dizziness for years. You were tired and pale.

You’d gone to the doctor, but no one at the time believed anything was a result of smoking. They told you it was probably because of age. Now, you have been diagnosed with emphysema and know that the disease has gotten much worse faster than it would have with a proper diagnosis years ago.

Why does emphysema get misdiagnosed?

Emphysema is a long-term lung disease, which is part of the reason why it’s so hard to diagnose correctly. Initially, symptoms may include things such as being weak or dizzy, faint, fatigued or pale. Others may struggle with chest pain, shortness of breath and a cough.

The problem with these symptoms is that they overlap with many other conditions. Here is a short list of different conditions that have many, if not all, of the same symptoms as early stage emphysema.

  1. Chronic bronchitis
  2. Pneumonia
  3. Asthma
  4. Cystic fibrosis
  5. Congestive heart failure
  6. Panic disorder
  7. Pulmonary embolisms

There are many other conditions that mimic emphysema as well.

What are the risk factors for emphysema?

The risk factors are what make doctors begin to look into the possibility of emphysema. If you have risk factors such as smoking, chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, have been exposed to toxic chemicals on the job or exposure to cadmium, you’re at a higher risk of developing emphysema.

It’s important to remember that a risk of developing emphysema is not the same as guaranteeing the development of the disease, but it does make it more likely in the future.

What happens when emphysema is misdiagnosed?

The primary concern for patients is that they are not getting the care they need. If patients who smoke, for example, don’t know that they’ve developed this diseases, they may not stop smoking. Stopping smoking, even after diagnosis, is known to slow the progression of this serious and possibly fatal condition.

Emphysema is a progressive condition and is not reversible. Avoiding lung irritants can slow its progression and extend the patient’s life while improving his or her quality of life. A misdiagnosis could cause the condition to progress more rapidly, which could, in the end, result in an early death or the need for medical intervention to breathe successfully.


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