Stunned Doctors Describe The Worst Misdiagnoses They’ve Ever Had To Correct

November 8, 2023 | Miles Brucker

Stunned Doctors Describe The Worst Misdiagnoses They’ve Ever Had To Correct

We all make mistakes—but when you’re a doctor or nurse, your mistakes matter a heck of a lot more. Here are 50 shocking stories about diagnoses and medical treatments that were later discovered to have been horribly wrong.

1. Worse Than Crying Over Spilt Milk

I had a patient who was lactating, but not pregnant or breastfeeding. A previous doctor told her it was residual from her baby that had been weaned for 14 months. This was probably the most bizarre symptom I'd ever heard of, so I sent her immediately for a brain scan. 

Well, it turns out that she had a brain tumor. She had surgery a week later to remove it and, thankfully, is doing very well now.


2. The Eye Doctor Is The Only One Who Can See

I’m not a doctor, but my mom's friend went to an ophthalmologist for an eye problem. During his exam, he asked her a question that made her blood run cold: "So how long have you had MS?" That was the first time that she was ever diagnosed or even made aware of the possibility that she might have that. On top of that, she had been regularly seeing all kinds of doctors for her entire life.

Apparently, she had been battling various MS symptoms for a couple of decades without a diagnosis.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsUnsplash

3. Rank Over Health?

While working as a Certified Nursing Assistant on an ICU step-down unit, I noticed my patient was acting strange. I asked her a few questions and got some questionable answers. I thought it might be weird, as she couldn’t really answer questions other than with “huh” and “uh huh". Her gait was off too. It was like a trot rather than a normal walk.

On top of that, she was leaning over. I was training another CNA and I was like, “No matter what you do, if you see something, notify the nurse and then put it on the chart that you notified her". Well, sadly, the patient was having a major stroke and the nurse was too far up her own behind and too busy on her phone to do a proper assessment.

As a result, the woman had to go to rehab and was not a candidate for any stroke “reversing” drips, as I had charted that she seemed “off” eight hours before. The only reason anyone “caught it” was because the night shift nurse insisted on viewing my bedside report. The nurse I had been working with yelled at me “STROKE??” As if I hadn’t been notifying her of symptoms all day.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

4. That Poor Kid

I suppose I have one for this as a resident doctor. It was a horrible ordeal to witness. We saw a kid in the emergency room for difficulty walking. He had been slowly losing the ability to walk over months, and also had random unexplained projectile vomiting episodes. Looking at his records, he had seen his doctor several times and the doctor had X-rayed one hip, then the other hip, then gave some Zofran.

We find out through the exam that he is blatantly ataxic. He had bad coordination and couldn't even stand up. He failed all our bedside neurological examinations for cerebellum function. It was obvious to me, and I'm not even that good at this yet. So, we did a CT scan. And sure enough, there was a big huge tumor in his cerebellum. It was obstructing fluid drainage in his brain too, raising his intracranial pressure and causing vomiting.

We had to call in the neurosurgeons overnight for an emergency drain, and he went to the ICU. Later, he had more surgery for the tumor. My supervisor got pretty emotional about it actually. The kid had really declined further over the last few days before his parents brought him to see us, which is what initially prompted the visit. So he looked really bad for us, though I'm not sure what he looked like before.

To any med students reading this: 1. Do an exam. 2. It's okay to cry sometimes.

Dumbest Patient FactsShutterstock

5. Reverse Psychology

A couple of years ago, I was on overnight call at a VA hospital. It started with a relatively routine call asking to transfer a patient to our psychiatric unit from a community hospital emergency department for the treatment of psychosis. He was an older guy, I want to say early 70s. He had come in acting strange and delusional.

His son-in-law had told the ED staff that he had received care with use for psychiatric issues before. I asked them to fax the transfer packet, a bundle of the assessments already performed there, and I started looking at his chart in the meantime. However, what I found was that he had not actually been admitted to our psychiatric unit.

He had been seen by our psychiatry consulting team for delirium while he had been admitted to the medical floor for decompensated heart failure. For anyone unfamiliar, delirium can occur with pretty much any severe illness, where your brain basically isn't functioning properly due to the physiological stress your body is under.

Sometimes, it just manifests as confusion or disorientation, but sometimes it can get more dramatic, with delusions and hallucinations. From what I saw in his chart, he had no actual primary psychiatric issues and had only been seen by the consult psychiatrist while he was delirious. So, I get the transfer packet for this guy.

Not only has there been no cardiac workup for this guy, who has a known history of heart failure, but there aren't even any records of vital signs on him. The only labs are a pretty unremarkable blood count and electrolytes/kidney markers. These chemistries are also not too abnormal, but I notice that his urea nitrogen is a little elevated.

This is generally a sign of poor perfusion through the kidneys, as reabsorbing this urea also helps the kidneys reabsorb every last bit of water they can when the body is dehydrated. However, dehydration and low blood volume is only one possible reason why the kidneys might see reduced perfusion. Another possible reason is a lot more sinister—it would be if someone had uncontrolled heart failure.

So I call the outside emergency room and tell them that I will not accept this patient onto our psychiatric floor without at least a basic cardiac workup. I tell them his history, that he has only had psychiatric symptoms in the context of delirium from heart failure and that the little bit of data they actually sent me points to that again recurring.

They tell me okay, they will get the labs and vitals that I requested and reach back out to me. I didn't hear back from them after this, and I assumed that they had found evidence of cardiovascular decompensation and reached out to the medicine floor to transfer him there instead. So I am going about my night, and a couple of hours later I get a call to come evaluate someone in the ED.

I am down there and using one of the computers at their desk when I hear one of the ED doctors mention something about a patient coming into medicine from the same hospital. For those who may not know, transfers to the VA must first go through the ED, even though such a process would be prohibited in other hospitals. I don't understand the reasoning behind it, but it's what they do.

Curious, I ask if it's a guy coming in with decompensated heart failure. Their answer was absolutely infuriating. I am informed that not only is it the same guy–who will probably be getting a psych consult for delirium—but that he had ACTIVELY BEEN HAVING A FREAKING HEART ATTACK IN THEIR ED without them so much as noticing.

Needless to say, I was pretty upset that this outside ED had tried to send this guy to our psych unit, where it is a lot harder to get other medical treatments, without even getting vital signs on him or realizing that he was having a heart attack. I tell this story to medical students who are rotating through psychiatry all the time to try to hammer home the point that just because someone is acting bizarre doesn't mean that you can just throw the "psych patient" label on them and ignore everything else.

Hospital HorrorsShutterstock

6. Too Little, Too Late

My best friend was in her late 20s and was feeling constant irritation in her stomach. She went to see several doctors over the course of almost three years, and they all dismissed her saying she just had an irritable bowel. She would try a new diet every few months, but nothing helped. One day, she calls me and tells me she broke her ribs.

She didn't know how it happened, but she started having horrible pain and her doctor said her ribs must be fractured. Long story short, it wasn't fractured ribs. At some point when the pain became too much to bear, she went to the ER and got a CT. The results were absolutely devastating. It turns out that she had stage four colon cancer with four-inch tumors in her abdomen that were compressing her organs and causing the pain.

It took her life a few months later. She'd been seeing doctors about her symptoms for three years. If just one of them had taken her concerns seriously and sent her to get a colonoscopy, she'd probably still be alive today. It's disturbing, but sadly not surprising, to see that there are so many similar stories to this one.

If you feel like something is off with your body, trust your instincts, and don't listen to doctors who try to tell you otherwise! The cancer may have taken her life, but the real reason for her passing was apathy.

Family secretsPexels

7. This One’s Hard To Stomach

I’m not a doctor, but I have a story to share. I’ve been dealing with abdominal pain since I was a child. I’ve had countless ultrasounds, doctor’s appointments, and ER visits. I was always told it was in my head. Recently, I had surgery for something unrelated. During the surgery, they had to free my appendix that was stuck to my abdomen wall. Just the tip is healthy at this point.

So apparently, I had been suffering for years with a mild case of appendicitis, and my body was pretty much just absorbing my appendix. I will have to go back to get it removed in a later surgery, because it was so stuck that all they could do was free it. And they didn’t want to risk it at that point because it was going to cause more pain. So, that was cool to find out…

Pick-Up FailsShutterstock

8. Forgetting An Important Detail

I’m not a doctor, but actually the patient. I had a doctor prescribe me birth control. While in line to pay for it, I was reading the paperwork that comes with it, and I learned that another medication I am on, permanently and every day, completely voids out any effect the birth control would have. I went back to the pharmacist and asked about interactions.

He informed me that I may have side effects. I asked which ones, and he said: "Pregnancy." Pregnancy is not a side effect. It is a lifelong commitment. Then, I called the doctor and asked why she would prescribe something to me that she knew wouldn't work. And her response was: "But you asked for birth control!" Like, yeah I did, but I wanted some that would actually work!

Silly me for not specifying that…

Worst Blind Date FactsShutterstock

9. Anxious To Find Out

I have anxiety that can get pretty bad when untreated. I went to see my general doctor about it and tried to explain my symptoms. She told me it was heartburn. I tried to explain that I thought it might be anxiety and she yelled at me. She got upset and told me how “everyone is stressed” and how “these are stressful times, it’s normal".

I was having heart attack symptoms and I’m far too young with no heart problems to be having a heart attack. I went to a new doctor and, before I could even finish explaining, she cut me off and said “Yeah, you’ve got anxiety". I was out on meds and within the week I was feeling better. I don’t know what that first doctor’s problem was…

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

10. Walking The Walk

I'm the patient in the story. When I was a toddler and started walking, my extended family noticed that I would waddle a lot. My parents didn't really notice it because they grew used to my funny walking, but my grandma and my aunts that saw me so much less often insisted that I had a limp. So, my mother asked our pediatrician about it and he reassured her that it was nothing and would fix itself as I was growing up.

One year passed and it didn't fix itself. In fact, it got more noticeable. My mother asked my doctor again. She asked for an x-ray to make sure everything was fine, and the doctor bit her head off for wanting to expose me to the rays. He insisted it was nothing, but referred us to a specialist anyway. The specialist suggested that my parents put some wool around my leg that had the limp.

Because wool would warm it up and speed up the growing process. Right. My dad finally had enough. It was summer and my regular pediatrician was on holiday. His partner visited me because the limping had since become really bad and my parents wanted another opinion. The new doctor measured my legs. There was a four or five centimeter difference between the two legs.

They sent me to a specialist at a children’s hospital to get it fixed right away. I had severe dysplasia. So severe that my right hip didn't have a socket for the femur bone. Three years and three surgeries later, as well as after months of physiotherapy to learn to walk again, I was normal. If the second doctor didn't catch it, I would have grown up disabled.

That doctor split up with his work partner, i.e. the first doctor who couldn’t even be bothered to measure my legs. The second doctor is now my daughter's pediatrician.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

11. A Massive Mistake

I once saw a young student from, I think, Pakistan. He was complaining about his neck feeling stiff. He went to a doctor some days before and he was told he was having "joint pains" that would pass with some common anti-inflammatory medication. When I visited him, I saw that many of the lymph nodes in his neck were swollen, which probably caused the stiffness.

Nevertheless, I had a terrifying suspicion. He told me they were not painful, which is not a good sign in this case. I sent him right away to have a chest X-ray. The results came back and showed a huge mediastinal mass, suggestive of lymphoma. Sadly, I don't know what happened to him in the end. I really hope things worked out for him and that whoever took on his care after me was able to handle the situation properly.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

12. Trust Your Gut

When I was in training, I saw a child suspected of having meningitis. While I was new to pediatric medicine, I had a gut feeling just by looking at the four-year-old patient that he was too sick for it just to be a regular child sickness. The thing that tipped me off was the child having a slight delay in the pupillary reflexes.

After seeing the child, I asked the head pediatrician to do a lumbar puncture to investigate the spinal fluid for signs of infection. She said there was no need and that all signs pointed to some airborne virus that was roaming around at that time. An unnecessary lumbar puncture can scar children for life and whatnot.

While I didn't agree, I mistakenly doubted my own assessment and assumed the doctor with tens of thousands of hours of experience would surely know better than me. I shrugged and wrote everything down in the dossier. I then asked the pediatrician to read my evaluation afterwards. I went home after an exhausting evening, having worked almost 14 hours straight.

Three days later, the child came back with a fulminant meningitis that had taken a bad turn. When discussing the patient, she remarked that she noticed a bizarre pupillary reflex in the patient. So not only did she discount my suggestion of doing a diagnostic lumbar puncture, she also apparently did not read my evaluation of the patient three days earlier.

I learned to never doubt my gut feeling and it has led me to some outlandish diagnoses sometimes. It’s scary to think that some doctors don’t even bother to really pay attention to what’s going on when dealing with patients.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

13. The Eyes Don’t Lie

Once, when I was a medical student on surgery rotation, in trauma, we had a patient come in after he fell on the street and bonked his head. Well, apparently, he had fallen once earlier that day and was discharged when the trauma workup at the other hospital was negative for injuries. We examined him and noticed that his eyes were kinda yellow.

So, as part of our trauma workup, given that he couldn't give a great story and we couldn't be sure as to what happened, we CT scanned his abdomen and made a gruesome discovery. We saw that his common bile duct was like three times normal size. You could drive a truck through it. About that time, we checked his next set of vitals.

His temperature was 103 degrees Fahrenheit. The guy was floridly septic from ascending cholangitis, which is why he was falling down. Big miss and that is an emergency.

Paranormal Hospital FactsShutterstock

14. Not What Patients Wanna Hear...

Doctor here. I once had a new admission come to me overnight in the hospital, who was admitted by someone else the evening before. The patient very clearly had an out of hospital cardiac incident at a local casino. After it happened, they used a defibrillator on him which brought about return of spontaneous circulation.

The history was clearly described by the admitting doctor, however they called it “syncope” or passing out. They had ordered a cardiac stress test for the morning. I caught it early that morning. Ended up needing to go emergently to the cardiac catheterization lab and getting a stent to heart artery procedure, which was the cause of their heart stopping.

If the admitting doctor had actually done a stress test on this patient, it would have ended their life. And I have literally tens of stories like this. It feels like half the doctors I work with are morons and literally don’t care about the well-being of their patients. If you aren’t someone who can handle the kind of things that doctors deal with on a daily basis, this is not the profession you should be in.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

15. It Burns!

I was once given someone else's medicine...while in the hospital...via an IV. The nurse realized after I had finished the bag that she screwed up—but that’s not the worst part. Then she hid the bag in the garbage. The night nurse brought it to my attention because he was confused as to why someone else's used IV bag was in the garbage can in my private room.

I was on a severe liquid restriction at the time too, so there was an extra couple hundred milliliters of fluid that I should have not had. A few other things happened during that time in that hospital, too. I was left in my own excrement while in a coma for hours. That resulted in it eating away and breaking down my tissue on my coccyx.

I was restrained and severely burned as a result. They didn't use the pads like they're supposed to, or ask family. My skin blackened. I almost lost my hand. Oh, I should explain that I was restrained because I was coming in and out of the coma. I tried to scratch an itch and accidentally pulled out my nose feeding tube.

My PICC line was pulled almost completely out and I was given a lot of potassium. Now, if it's pure potassium, it will burn. Since I was on a fluid restriction, it couldn't be mixed with saline. My arm would swell and burn red. It was so painful. But they kept on doing it. It took about a week before someone realized "Well, this doesn't look right."

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

16. Too Close For Comfort

My mum is a nurse. I was 15 and had fallen on my wrist while playing football in gym class at school. The school nurse, who was friendly with my mum through nursing circles, said to keep an eye on it during the evening. Later that afternoon, I’m in agony. But my mum wasn’t having any of it. She said if it was hurting, then I was old enough to bike to the doctor’s myself.

I tried to explain the importance of brakes and wrist usage. After enough whining, she finally takes me to the doctor and then on to the hospital after they said it was broken. She sat very sheepishly in the waiting room after hearing the prognosis. Fast forward three years later. My stepbrother comes back home for the weekend from school, with a sore wrist from getting into a fight.

Same “quit whining, it’s fine” response from her. He goes to the school’s health center. When he gets back, he is taken to the hospital for surgery and a pin put in place. Based on these stories, some might think that my mother is an awful mother and nurse. Total opposite, she’s been a fantastic mum and now grandmother and is very highly regarded locally for her nursing.

But as other kids of medical professionals have mentioned in posts, there’s something about how they react to their own kid’s medical issues. It seems that any medical logic switches off when it comes to their own kids. I’ve met a ton of people who have had very similar occurrences with medical professional parents, and it’s been good to talk to them and share a laugh at the stories.

Burst Out Laughing factsShutterstock

17. Getting The Real Story

I started taking my daughter to the doctor for abdominal pain when she was 12 years old. It was excruciating, can't-function-level abdominal pain. We tried tracking pain cycles. Nothing seemed to add up. Doctor after doctor, specialist after specialist, they all literally told her it was in her head. To the point where, on top of the rest of what was going on with her life, it caused her to develop some massive mental health issues.

At the age of 19, she ended up in the ER again for abdominal pain and they saw a cyst on her ovary. A few weeks later, she had scheduled for surgery to remove it. After a surgery that lasted a couple of hours longer than a cyst removal surgery should have, we finally discovered the disturbing truth. The surgeon came out and said: "That is the worst case of endometriosis I've ever seen in my entire career."

Granted, she was a gynecologist, but those are heavy words. At the age of 21, after having exhausted all avenues for controlling the endometriosis, she had a full hysterectomy. Even prepping for that surgery, with a surgeon that specializes in endometriosis and is the best in the field, the nurses and anesthesiologist said they were warned that this is one of the worst cases ever seen.

I so badly want to go back to all the doctors and ERs that I had taken her to and say “Look, she wasn't faking it!” Simply so that it's something they can take into consideration and maybe the next kid won't be in the same position my daughter was.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsPixaHive

18. An Inexplicable Decision

The two-year-old patient and their dad were out gallavanting in the fields near a small town that is several hours away from the nearest big city—which is where I work. The dad takes the child to the ER in the small town with an obvious snake bite, and the doctor there says “Eh it’s okay, she probably didn’t get envenomated".

He didn’t even give the patient antivenin, which they had at that hospital. And instead of electing to send the child to us by helicopter, he sent her by ambulance. Several hours later, the patient showed up to our hospital coding—and the worst happened. The child ended up dying. “Probably didn’t get envenomated?!?” What the heck kind of stupid nonsense idea is that??

If a tiny child gets bitten by a rattlesnake, you assume they’ve been envenomated and you treat them as though that had been. That means antivenin, physiological support, etc. It was all so completely absurd.

Doctors rare conditionsFlickr

19. Asleep At The Wheel

There was a story pretty recently in the hospital I work for, where a cardiologist in the ER was doing a rather difficult nightshift and started feeling light-headed, dizzy, and fatigued. Those shifts are pretty intense. They can sometimes last more than 26 hours, sometimes multiple times a week. Because of that, nobody thought much of it when this doctor said he wasn’t feeling well.

The doctor in question went to catch a quick nap in the staff room. People passed by him in the staff room every once in a while, but they just assumed the poor guy was exhausted and let him rest. They all saw him lying there though, and didn’t do anything about it. Later, they realized the disturbing truth. Believe it or not, even surrounded by all those doctors, the poor guy had been lifeless for several hours before someone realized that something wasn't right.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

20. Eyeing The Problem

When I was a kid, my eyes were hurting and my dad kept taking me back to the same eye doctor, who insisted that the problem was that I wasn't cleaning my contacts properly. He just kept giving me harsher and harsher chemicals to wash them in. It got to the point where I couldn't open my eyes fully in a room with the lights on, even though I hadn't worn contacts for months.

Finally, after a year, my mom forced my dad to take me to a different doctor. This doctor literally met me in the waiting room, looked at me with just his own eye, and said: “You have a raging eye infection". A month of medicine and the infection was gone, but there was so much scarring and damage that it was about 20 years before I could wear contacts again.

This was more than two decades ago and it still bugs me to think about.

Shy kid covering eyes with handsGetty Images

21. Not Getting The Picture

My sister had her gallbladder out. It was a totally routine surgery, yet two days later she woke up at 4:00 in the morning in searing pain. She went to the ER by ambulance. I’m a nurse, and I met her there. The ER doctors were all apparently convinced that she was a pill-popper and did not even conduct a physical exam beyond taking her vitals.

They injected her with a calming medication to shut her up, because she was just yelling “Help me! Help me! I'm dying!” over and over again. They did eventually do an MRI, but said it was negative and sent her home. She didn’t want to leave and insisted that something was terribly wrong. Their reaction chilled me to the bone. 

They said they would call security and have her thrown out if she didn’t leave. At this point, I’d like to mention that she had no history of substance use or heavy drinking. She continued to get worse at home, and the next day went to a different hospital. They did a workup and found that the metal clip that closed off the bile duct had cut right through the tissue.

She had a large bile leak that was literally burning all her abdominal organs. She had to have three surgeries to fix it and was hospitalized for nine days. She was left with chronic pain from adhesions and chemical burns. When the new hospital finally acquired the MRI from the original ER visit, she was told that the leak was small but clearly visible in that image.

So those people failed to realize that the issue really was something serious.

Patients Wouldn't Admit FactsShutterstock

22. Coming In Handy

A patient was getting anxious about numbness in his hand. He said: "It's getting more frequent and I don't want to live like this. It gets me freaked out, like my hand’s not there." They assumed the person was mentally ill and showing symptoms of panic attack, i.e. elevated breathing rate leading to tingling and numbness in hands.

They did a CT scan because I requested it. There was a lesion. They blew it off. An MRI showed that it was glioblastoma multiforme, which is an extremely serious form of cancer. This was completely missed by the ER physician assistant. The MD supervising them never spoke to me. Not even sure if they reviewed the case.

Not In Medical SchoolShutterstock

23. Off To A Strong Start

I’m not a doctor, but the patient. When I was born, I was my dad's third child. He had two from a previous marriage. He knew something was wrong with me because of the way I was breathing. Apparently, I was taking very rapid, short breaths. When I was three months old, they noticed there really wasn't any change in that.

The first hospital that he and my mom took me to, they said that there was nothing to worry about and that babies just breathe like that sometimes. But my dad was 100% certain that they were wrong. They took me to a second hospital, and they said there was definitely something wrong with me. But they didn't have the technology to help, since it was back in 1986.

They recommended us to a third hospital, which was a couple of hours away. Finally, the third hospital took me right in and performed surgery on me that day. Turns out I had five holes in my heart. They tried to go through my rib cage, but it didn't work. They had to crack my sternum and go directly through my chest. They took my heart out of its body and patched the holes.

I'm doing wonderfully medically today, and I am forever in their debt. Not financially, though, thanks to some helpful children’s charities!

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

24. A Horrible Discovery

I was working nights and a patient came in for a nail bed repair under general anaesthesia. It was a slow night. A general anaesthetic is absolutely ridiculous for a nail bed repair, but he refused to have it done under local. As they're anaesthetising him, he aspirates. So we perform a chest X-ray to check if he has any saliva or blood in his lungs.

Well, there was something we didn’t know. Prior to this emergency surgery, he'd been going to his GP for over six months and complaining about chest tightness. They'd put him on various different asthma medications, but none had any effect on him. The X-ray showed a massive dark mass in his left lung. We kept him asleep and transferred him to the ICU.

The dark space in his lungs was the normal lung, and the rest was whited out because they were riddled with tumours. His wife and three-year-old daughter were waiting for him on the ward. We had to tell them where he'd gone, why he'd gone there, and what was going to happen. He passed on from the lung cancer within the month. This man was in his late 20s and a non-smoker.

I couldn't move past the situation for months after it.

Memorable Patient Experiences factsShutterstock

25. Twist And Shout

Medical student here. I will be a doctor in May. I was working an ED shift when we found what was probably a missed testicular torsion. The previous doctor had told the patient that he probably had cancer. When he appeared in our ED, it seemed that he had an undetected necrotic testis from his initial presentation weeks earlier.

People with testes, especially young men: if you have sudden-onset excruciating pain, sometimes without activity, but often after or during activity, you’ve gotta go to the ER IMMEDIATELY. It’s one of the few things that would make a urologist lounging at home on the weekend jump off his couch and drive full speed to the hospital.

My patient experience was with a male, but indeed ovarian torsion is a similar emergency!

Ancestry TestsShutterstock

26. Quality Over Quantity

I started having horrible ankle pain when I would walk in grade school, and my doctor always attributed it to growing pains. I knew that this was not the case, and so I kept annoying him about it. After multiple attempts at diagnosis, including everything from knock knees to pigeon toe to just being weak, I finally went to a specialist.

He asks me to flex my ankle, and so I do. “No, all the way” he said, even though I was flexing as hard as I could. I could only flex my foot maybe an inch from its resting position. Turns out, I had incredibly decreased mobility of that joint due to shortened tendons. He diagnosed me within five minutes, after years of my doctors brushing me off.

After a few months of physiotherapy and a shoe insert, my pain decreased by a lot.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

27. Third Opinion

I'm a dentist in the United Kingdom. While I was working as a locum in an emergency clinic, I had a man present with a mouth full of infections. He had been eager to get implants and had approached a private UK dentist who, however, refused to perform the procedure due to the patient's heavy indulgence in harmful habits and poor oral hygiene. These conditions implied that the possibilities of a successful operation and adequate recovery would be compromised.

The patient didn't accept this—so he went an alternate (horrifying) route. He went online and found that he could go to Hungary and get the implants done for half the price, and have a holiday. He came back and, within a few weeks, most of the implants were infected and he’s sitting in my chair. We gave him antibiotics to clear up the infection.

Then we had to inform him that the implants would need to come out and that he would need to find a specialist dentist with the necessary equipment to get that done. He was not happy. He spent all that money only to have to pay again to have them all removed. No better off and at least ten-thousand down. He should have listened when the first person told him!

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

28. All The Symptoms Were There

My mother-in-law had all the signs of stroke. Severe headache, vomiting, vertigo, vision problems, partial paralysis, etc. But she was sent home from the ER and told that it was an inner ear condition that would resolve on its own. When it did not get better, she saw her GP, who upon merely looking at her asked when she had had the stroke.

When he realized it was still untreated, he immediately sent her back to the hospital. There they finally recognized that she had had a major stroke! She could easily have passed and was in rehab for weeks. Their reaction was absolutely unbelievable. They then claimed that it must have happened after she was there the first time.

They claimed that her chart from that visit did not say that she’d had a stroke…and therefore she couldn’t have had one. So much wrong with that statement that I don't even know where to begin…

Tina Turner FactsShutterstock

29. A Tough Pill To Swallow

I’m not a doctor, but a nurse. Back when I was in college, I got to a point where I couldn’t swallow. It started with difficulty swallowing, progressed to me having to swallow bites of food multiple times and regurgitating it, and then got to where all I could swallow was broth soups and mashed potatoes with absolutely no chunks.

I went to the doctor multiple times, and was told every time that it was just acid reflux and part of my anxiety disorder. I lost 30 pounds, and I was only 120 when this started. I was just generally miserable. Finally, my grandma got tired of watching me be sick all the time, so she called the GI doctor herself. They said we needed a referral.

But she explained the situation and they got me in the next day. They did an endoscopy and found that my esophagus was 95% occluded at the gastroesophageal sphincter. For some reason, some of my primary doctor’s notes ended up in my discharge paperwork by mistake. I guess they had to contact her to get my information.

She had told them it was just acid reflux and basically that I was being overdramatic. She stated that she did not recommend them to do the procedure. Needless to say, I switched doctors. Screw that idiot. That was not a fun year...

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

30. More Than He Bargained For

I’m a dental assistant. A patient once came in and his color was off. His jaw hurt, as did a tooth. He’d just come from the doctor who told him to see us. I was suspicious of a heart attack. I put the pulse ox on him and almost fainted myself. I grabbed our emergency high flow and yelled for the AED and for someone to call an ambulance. The guy was having a heart attack.

The guy lived and brought me a big heart-shaped box of chocolates on Valentine's Day. I’ve never been so scared or angry for another person. The dentist I worked for called the MD and said, “My 25 year old assistant just saved your patient’s life".

Worst Mistakes FactsPxfuel

31. The Opposite Of What You Were Supposed To Do

I’m a social worker. I once saw someone who claimed to have anxiety. He had prescribed benzodiazepines by his previous doctor and now felt like a zombie. I figured he had ADD after just five minutes, and the benzodiazepines had just made it exponentially worse. I cannot understand how people get things so wrong sometimes.

Emma Stone FactsPixabay

32. No Kid-ding?

A patient was once referred to me with low back pain. After evaluating him, I referred him to the ER for suspected kidney issues. It turns out he had a kidney infection that no one had noticed.

Scars FactsShutterstock

33. Film School

I’m not a doctor, but I am a scientist. Last week, I was left a bunch of blood films to look at by a colleague, who after a long night shift insisted that they were mundane and that I should just deal with them when I get the chance. I decided to clear them off immediately. The first film I looked at was a gentleman with a haemoglobin of 43, platelet count of 37, and a film jam packed with blasts.

It must have been about 40% blast cells. Naturally, I'm immediately in acute leukaemia mode, ringing urgent care and the consultant who drags this poor man out of bed and into hospital. I spoke to the consultant today and was told that the patient works offshore and is dealing surprisingly well with his condition. My colleague didn't miss the diagnosis, but did miss that film from his queue entirely.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

34. Self-Aware

I'm the patient. An NP at a county health department found a tumor in my chest area. She didn't tell me about it. I found it while doing a self-exam in the shower a week later, because I've always been on top of that stuff. I didn't go back to the doctor for months, because I figured the NP would have told me. Four months later, my doctor gives me the heartbreaking news. I've been diagnosed with stage 2 cancer in my 30s.

Lesson? Conduct your self-body checks and don't let anyone convince you that you're "too young" for anything serious.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

35. Happy Wife, Happy Life

I am 29 years old and have been having chest pain for the past three years. The first doctor I went to said that I was just stressing myself out thinking about it. My wife convinced me to go to another doctor, who took me seriously and did an echocardiogram and sleep study. Turns out, I have a pretty serious congenital heart defect that requires me to wear a pacemaker or risk dying.

The crazy part is that, up till 26 years old or so, I was in amazing, near Olympic-level shape. The doctor was stunned that I was still alive after explaining my workout routine from when I was younger. I owe my wife my life now.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

36. I Hope You’re Sitting Down For This One

I saw a young Aboriginal girl with Sydenham’s Chorea, a condition that guarantees you’ve had acute rheumatic fever. ARF is really common in Australian Indigenous peoples, and in the long run it causes cardiac valve dysfunction and can lead a patient to an early grave. It’s also really easily treatable by a specific antibiotic regime, although you do have to stay on it for years.

The first doctor had told her it was anxiety and that she just needed to sit still.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

37. Missing The Obvious

I found an obvious huge rectal cancer on a patient who was previously told over and over again that she had hemorrhoids. It made me so sad to know that it could have been caught and treated so much earlier, but they happened to get stuck with a doctor who either didn’t know what he was doing or just didn’t care. I hope the patient is doing well now.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

38. Hallway Healthcare

There’s one story that comes to mind for me. When I was a resident, the ED doctor wanted to admit a mild septic patient with a UTI. I reviewed her labs and, knowing that she was a diabetic, it was obvious florid DKA, i.e. diabetic ketoacidosis. That kind of admission typically goes straight to the ICU to get insulin via a drip and aggressive IV fluid rehydration.

She was just in the ED hallway with no medications at all, looking like a mess.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

39. Under Attack

In residency, I once saw a cardiologist miss a STEMI. And by STEMI, I mean a very serious heart attack. By the time the patient arrived, some of the muscles supporting one of his heart valves had entirely ceased functioning, and he was in cardiogenic shock. Basically, his heart function was so bad that it wasn't circulating the blood in his body enough to support life.

It was awful. Happily, though, he did make it through.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

40. Oh, By The Way...

A neurologist once sent a patient to our ED without informing her that imaging showed a glioblastoma, assuring her impending demise. He didn't overlook the disease. He just overlooked the communication. So he knew her life was about to come to an end, and dumped the task of informing her onto a total stranger like me.

Doctors last wordsUnsplash

41. A Nasty Tumble Made Worse

I work in EMS. We once got a call for a female with leg pain. When we arrived on scene, we were greeted by a truly gruesome sight. This woman’s leg was three times the size of her other one. It was blue and purple, and she had no pulse in her foot. She fell on ice a few days prior and the urgent care didn’t do any X-rays.

They told her she had a sprain and just gave her a walking boot. In reality, her tibia and fibula were both so badly fractured that they were cutting the blood vessels and muscle tissue. She lost her foot.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

42. Let It Bleed, Gone Wrong

MD here. I was recently called over by a nurse who told me that a patient's bandages were wet, as they were bleeding a little. The patient had recently had his leg amputated. We pulled his bandages off and found a spurting femoral artery. At this point, the patient passed out. The patient was immediately sent to theaters for an emergency operation. Close call for sure.

Not In Medical SchoolShutterstock

43. Just In Time

A doctor told a patient: "Go home, it's nothing!" When he came to me, we barely managed to save his life. He had a ruptured appendix.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsPixabay

44. Standing In The Way

My grandmother had a lump on her tongue and, when she went to the doctor’s office, the person who examined her told her that it looked benign. He didn’t feel comfortable with ignoring it, though, so he said she should go to an expert lest it become malignant. A more senior doctor then decided against that and blocked the proposition.

A couple of months later, we find out that it is malignant and she needs half of her tongue cut out, plus tonsils.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

45. Not Very Hip

I am working as a carer while I study nursing. I once discovered that a 90+-year-old woman had a broken hip that the nurse who assessed her after a fall completely missed. Most elderly people who break a hip will pass within a year. Fast treatment is absolutely crucial, and it's a pretty freaking big thing to have missed...

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsShutterstock

46. Four Missed Chances

I had a pelvic exam for severe pain and the fact that, "something doesn't look right down there, doctor." The gyno missed the fact that I was having an organ prolapse. 91 days and four ER visits calling it a heavy period later, my female organs were no longer attached to my body but in a specimen cup in the trauma department.

Also, the whole thing ended in a hysterectomy to remove what didn't completely detach from my body.

Strangest thing patient saidShutterstock

47. A Word To The Wise

Life pro tip: When seeking a second opinion, don't tell them it's a second opinion. You want a second first opinion, not a confirmation of the first opinion. I have been to multiple doctors who would not contradict the diagnosis of another doctor, even with test results that ruled out the initial diagnosis, or confirmed a contrary diagnosis.

Not In Medical SchoolShutterstock

48. Back In Action

My husband had a weird dimpled spot on his back. He went to the dermatologist multiple times, but was simply brushed off and told not to worry about it. The derm even burned off a nodule that was bothering him at his beltline, but repeatedly said it was nothing and was visibly irritated with us for being anxious over it.

We waited for nearly 10 years before going to another dermatologist. Big mistake. Since our experience with this one was so negative, we were hesitant to go and see another one. But the new derm immediately diagnosed what turned out to be a sarcoma, which had had ten extra years to grow thanks to the first doctor’s incompetence.

My husband now has a 48-inch scar snaking down his back from the removal of the tumor and the reshaping of his back. I now have months of experience with wound drains, tunneling, bandages, triage, and the laundry that comes with massive wound healing. I would like to take that first dermatologist who was so freaking patronizing with our concerns and shove his face deep into his own behind.

Don’t ever let a doctor dismiss your concerns like that!

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsFlickr

49. Tragic In Every Way

This might be the most distressing tale one can learn of. My wife discovered a lump beneath her chest area that caused a great deal of worry. It took her about two months to get a proper appointment to have it looked at. The doctor diagnosed it as a cyst and fibroadenoma. She drained the lump and it was fine. It grew back a week later and was bigger.

Finally, after being in terrible pain for weeks on end, the doctor said this is clearly not working, so we will do surgery and remove it. Upon going in for the check-up, thinking they'd examine the scar and healing process, it was discovered that she had Stage 2A Triple Negative Cancer in her chest area. The surgeon was absolutely floored.

That wasn’t the most upsetting part. While her fantastic main surgeon was on holiday, another male doctor told her, "any surgery would be merely cosmetic and it clearly didn't bother her because he could touch the lump." I almost laid that doctor out in the office. When she got the diagnosis, he apologized to both of us for being a jerk.

Despite undergoing eight months of therapy, which included chemo and radio, her cancer recurred seven months later. It then spread to her brain and spinal fluid, ultimately resulting in her passing away. Numerous individuals told me, "Ah, cancer in the chest area, that's one of the simpler ones! My *insert irrelevant relative here* had it".

She switched gynos twice because they wouldn't take it seriously. It's been six months now and not a day goes by where I don’t wish I could have taken her cancer away. She was only 27 years old. It's been six months since she passed, though I have been grieving for a while longer. Anticipatory grief, they call it. So, considering everything, I am doing well.

It was her birthday on February 28 and she would have been 28, so the week was quite solemn. But other than that, I have found ways to move forward with her, not from her. I miss her every single day, and will for the rest of my life.

Vacation Break Up Stories FactsUnsplash

50. A Game Of Inches

So this one guy was brought in with an ambulance for upper airway obstruction. We diagnosed what looked like advanced throat cancer and did a tracheostomy. After the operation, where you pull and push the neck like crazy, we checked his neck x-ray. Then this junior asked him when had broken his neck. Well, as it turns out, he had a brand new, unstable neck fracture.

Checking his initial x-ray, we saw that it had been there prior to the operation, but everyone had missed it. After questioning the patient, he said that on his way to the hospital, the ambulance was in a car crash. No one bothered mentioning it to us when he eventually came in. He only thought he had whiplash, but he was actually just a few millimeters away from permanent paraplegia.

Unfortunately, he passed on about two weeks later, due to the cancer.

Worst Misdiagnoses FactsUnsplash

Sources:  Reddit,

More from Factinate

Featured Article

My mom never told me how her best friend died. Years later, I was using her phone when I made an utterly chilling discovery.

Dark Family Secrets

Dark Family Secrets Exposed

Nothing stays hidden forever—and these dark family secrets are proof that when the truth comes out, it can range from devastating to utterly chilling.
April 8, 2020 Samantha Henman

Featured Article

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.

Madame de Pompadour Facts

Entrancing Facts About Madame de Pompadour, France's Most Powerful Mistress

Madame de Pompadour was the alluring chief mistress of King Louis XV, but few people know her dark history—or the chilling secret shared by her and Louis.
December 7, 2018 Kyle Climans

More from Factinate

Featured Article

I tried to get my ex-wife served with divorce papers. I knew that she was going to take it badly, but I had no idea about the insane lengths she would go to just to get revenge and mess with my life.

These People Got Genius Revenges

When someone really pushes our buttons, we'd like to think that we'd hold our head high and turn the other cheek, but revenge is so, so sweet.
April 22, 2020 Scott Mazza

Featured Article

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but few people know her even darker history.

Catherine of Aragon Facts

Tragic Facts About Catherine of Aragon, Henry VIII’s First Wife

Catherine of Aragon is now infamous as King Henry VIII’s rejected queen—but very few people know her even darker history.
June 7, 2018 Christine Tran

Dear reader,

Want to tell us to write facts on a topic? We’re always looking for your input! Please reach out to us to let us know what you’re interested in reading. Your suggestions can be as general or specific as you like, from “Life” to “Compact Cars and Trucks” to “A Subspecies of Capybara Called Hydrochoerus Isthmius.” We’ll get our writers on it because we want to create articles on the topics you’re interested in. Please submit feedback to Thanks for your time!

Do you question the accuracy of a fact you just read? At Factinate, we’re dedicated to getting things right. Our credibility is the turbo-charged engine of our success. We want our readers to trust us. Our editors are instructed to fact check thoroughly, including finding at least three references for each fact. However, despite our best efforts, we sometimes miss the mark. When we do, we depend on our loyal, helpful readers to point out how we can do better. Please let us know if a fact we’ve published is inaccurate (or even if you just suspect it’s inaccurate) by reaching out to us at Thanks for your help!

Warmest regards,

The Factinate team

Want to learn something new every day?

Join thousands of others and start your morning with our Fact Of The Day newsletter.

Thank you!

Error, please try again.