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COPD can be misdiagnosed due to lack of testing

Hospitalized patients in Illinois and elsewhere may be at risk for misdiagnosis of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, or COPD. The symptoms of COPD, especially coughing, wheezing and shortness of breath, are shared in common with many other diseases. When COPD is diagnosed without performing a full series of tests, patients could be wrongly diagnosed with COPD and other illnesses of concern could remain undetected.

Spirometry, a test of lung function, can be used to verify that a patient actually has COPD. The test is a simple procedure that is inexpensive, safe and widely available internationally. It can be performed at a hospital bedside and does not require expensive scans. However, it is not used as frequently as it could be to verify the diagnosis.

One study looked at over 6,000 patients admitted to a hospital and diagnosed with COPD between 2011 and 2013. Of the patients, only 504 were given a spirometry assessment and further examinations. Taking a medical history and giving a physical examination without this test are not sufficiently specific to confirm a COPD diagnosis, noted the researchers.

Of the 8.4 percent of patients given the test, 69.2 percent were found to have COPD while another 26.6 percent had restrictive lung disease. The remaining 4.2 percent actually had normal lung function tests. While there was a clear correlation between smoking frequency and a correct COPD diagnosis, researchers urged the use of the confirmatory test for clarity and certainty.

Misdiagnosis can lead to real problems for patients. Sometimes they are given dangerous and unnecessary medications due to a doctor error. In other cases, doctors or hospitals fail to diagnose other serious diseases, which can lead to dangerous delays in treatment.

Patients who have gone through misdiagnosis or other errors and suffered negative health results because of them could consult a medical malpractice attorney. A lawyer can advise patients about their options to pursue compensation for the damage to their health as a result of hospital or doctor negligence.