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Misdiagnosed: What to do When Your Doctor Doesn't Know

Why patients suffer and what you can do to get help

En español | No one knew what was wrong with Tom Hopper. In 2007, at 64, the Baltimore accounting consultant began losing weight, which he welcomed at first because he needed to go on a diet. But a few months later Hopper was crippled by episodes of uncontrollable vomiting and diarrhea, sometimes for upward of seven hours, which left him dehydrated and delirious. Cramps in his legs were so painful that he often couldn't stand up.

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Over the next five months, Hopper was hospitalized five times and received various diagnoses. During his first emergency room visit, doctors concluded he had food poisoning. When he returned after the next vomiting attack a few weeks later, physicians ran a series of tests but found nothing.

And on it went, month after month. Different doctors had different theories. Some thought he had a virus. Others thought he had a digestive disease. One even recommended that he have his gallbladder removed. "Let me think about that," Hopper wisely responded.

The next specialist suggested shaving off part of an intestinal muscle to create a larger opening to his bowel. This time Hopper agreed. "When I woke up from the anesthesia," he says, "the doctor told me I'd never have to see another doctor for the rest of my life."

But that prediction was premature. On a flight to Boston just a few days later, Hopper began vomiting. Once the plane landed, medics rushed him to Massachusetts General Hospital, where he stayed for 11 days. Exasperated, Hopper insisted to the new group of physicians: "Look, I'm not leaving here until you find out what's wrong with me."

Next: The surprising truth about diagnostic errrors. >>

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