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Many Americans suffer from illnesses that are difficult to diagnose (see "Misdiagnosed: What to Do When Your Doctor Doesn't Know"). We reveal seven ailments that give doctors trouble, identify their symptoms and tell you how to get help if you think you have one.
A chronic inflammatory disease
Symptoms: Fatigue; kidney, heart, and lung damage; rash; joint pain
Tests: Complete blood count to assess presence of anemia and a decreased white blood cell count; chest X-ray that may show pleurisy or lupus-related pneumonia; anti-double-stranded DNA test (anti-dsDNA), currently the most specific test for lupus; ANA and lupus erythematosus cell tests, which may show positive results in active lupus.
A degenerative disorder of the central nervous system
Symptoms: Tremors in hands, arms, legs, or head; stiff muscles; problems with balance or walking
Mimics: Alzheimer's, stroke, stress, traumatic head injury, essential tremor
Tests: There are no lab tests that can diagnose Parkinson's. It is typically diagnosed by a clinical examination.
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A chronic arthritis-like disorder characterized by widespread pain
Symptoms: Anxiety or depression, increased sensitivity to pain, incapacitating fatigue
Tests: Though no diagnostic lab tests are available, a diagnosis is typically made when patients report two symptoms: (1) a history of widespread pain lasting more than three months; and (2) the presence of at least 11 tender points, spots on the body that are extraordinarily sensitive to pain.
4. Lyme disease
A systemic infection caused by a tick bite
Symptoms: Shortness of breath; chest or rib soreness; abdominal cramping, nausea, and vomiting; bull's-eye rash at bite site; neck stiffness; twitching of face or eyelids
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Tests: If no rash is visible, a two-step blood antibody test is recommended: the ELISA or IFA blood test, followed by the more specific Western blot blood test.
A progressive autoimmune disease that attacks the central nervous system
Symptoms: Muscle spasms, lack of coordination, balance problems, blurred vision, cognitive impairment
Mimics: Viral infection, lupus, Alzheimer's, bipolar disorder
Tests: Blood tests to rule out other disorders, a lumbar puncture, and an MRI, which may show the brain and spinal cord damage and lesions characteristic of multiple sclerosis
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An autoimmune disorder marked by an inability to digest gluten, a protein in wheat, rye, and barley
Symptoms: Vomiting, abdominal pain and bloating, diarrhea, weight loss, anemia, leg cramps
Mimics: Irritable bowel syndrome, Crohn's disease, cystic fibrosis
Tests: Blood tests can detect high levels of certain antibodies; roughly 10 percent of people with celiac disease, however, test negative for it. Plus: small-intestine-sample biopsy, genetic (DNA) tests.
A complex disorder with a combination of symptoms of unknown cause
Symptoms: Loss of memory or concentration, sore throat, painful lymph nodes in neck or armpits, unexplained muscle and joint pain, extreme exhaustion
Mimics: Sinus problems, hepatitis, fibromyalgia, lupus, rheumatoid arthritis
Tests: No lab or other diagnostic procedures exist to confirm the presence of chronic fatigue syndrome. Diagnosis is based on exclusion of similar disorders.
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