What Makes Diagnosing Rheumatoid Arthritis So Difficult?

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Why is it so hard to get a Rheumatoid Arthritis diagnosis? RA-ers ask me that all the time. Why don’t we watch the mini-movie and then we’ll talk?

Video on referrals for Rheumatoid Arthritis:

There are some familiar themes there:

Minimizing:

Rheumatoid Arthritis patients report that healthcare professionals often underrate their symptoms. Sometimes, it is as if doctors are hard of hearing. But, other times it can be worse: they can intentionally discount the patient’s descriptions of the disease. Did you hear the lady say that her doc thought her just a “neurotic teenager”? I know one RA-er who was sent to a psychiatrist instead of a rheumatologist. I have actually seen doctors scoff about RA.

Ignorance:

Astonishing as it is, even many physicians are unable to recognize Rheumatoid Arthritis when confronted with the symptoms. They may not know that many RA-ers are seronegative, like another woman in the video. They frequently have misconceptions of Rheumatoid Arthritis. Otherwise, they may rely too heavily upon the ACR’s 7 guidelines.

Under-diagnosis:

Concerning Rheumatoid Arthritis, misdiagnosis is consistently “under-diagnosis.” Doctors tend to look with skepticism upon portrayals of RA which sound dramatic or extreme. (Who could believe someone could live with this much RA?) This tendency can cause doctors to “miss” Rheumatoid Arthritis entirely, seeing instead less serious conditions.

Consequences:

Some patients in the video stated that they were made to feel that they or their illness was unimportant. While that infuriates me, I actually have more grave reasons to protest. This is about more than hurt feelings. Here are some other consequences:

1) When doctors do not accurately hear what Rheumatoid Arthritis patients recount, it results in delay of an accurate diagnosis of RA. Of course this means either lack of treatment or an inappropriate treatment. Remember the dear mum in the video who was forced into an exercise program to treat her RA? If she had had another condition, instead of RA, she might have improved. However, it made her worse BECAUSE SHE HAD FULL-BLOWN RHEUMATOID ARTHRITIS.

2) If symptoms are not accurately heard, they cannot be accurately recorded. This may hurt the patient’s position with future providers, with long term disease management, and with insurance issues regarding treatment options.

3) Rheumatoid Arthritis is believed to cause permanent damage even during the first months of being symptomatic. Patients are permanently harmed when doctors refuse to hear them and do not refer to specialists or begin treatment.

4) Finally, I believe that one reason scientists can’t find a cure to Rheumatoid Arthritis is that the disease process is not entirely understood. It is impossible to cure what we do not understand. Failing to listen only exacerbates this problem.

Bewildering, huh?

Dangerous thought: what if doctors were hired based on whether they could find the right diagnosis… like plumbers and electricians? Would that help?

Recommended reading:

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Kelly Young. All rights reserved.

This entry was posted on Tuesday, July 21st, 2009 at 3:55 pm and is filed under Reality Check. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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