And the Diagnosis Is…

Is it important or even necessary to have a diagnosis from a physician or psychiatrist? Some people say it’s essential to know their diagnosis, physical or mental. Others don’t find it necessary to know, just as long as they receive care. Do you care about knowing your diagnosis versus not knowing?

New psychiatric and medical diagnoses are decided by a collective of professionals in the field. Why do new conditions arise? One reason is that ideas about how the mind and body operate are always shifting as we acquire new information. Opinions change, fresh ideas flourish, and new categorizations are created, so change happens in medicine all the time.

Classification of diseases or conditions includes autoimmune disorders, learning disabilities, cancers, sexually infectious diseases (yes, they are no longer classified as STD’s, sexually transmitted diseases), and so on. Categorizations help identify characteristics within a group, therefore, offering basic assumptions about the condition. Some conditions are named after characteristics or symptoms, such as Tonsillitis (inflammation of the tonsils) or Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (for obvious reasons); whereas, others are named after an individual who discovered the condition, such as with Asperger’s syndrome (after Hans Asperger) or Alzheimer disease (after Alois Alzheimer). With the proper patient history, a diagnosis is made, and care can begin. The physician, using his or her education and life experience, decides proper treatment. Therefore, it is imperative that categorizations are agreed upon within the medical community, so that care providers aren’t reinventing the wheel every time a patient walks in.

Grouping has downsides, too. By lumping people, diseases, or conditions into groups, it takes the individuality out of the equation. Assumptions and generalizations may not always be accurate. What happens when a patient has been prescribed antidepressants for depression, when, later, they are diagnosed with Bipolar disorder? The misdiagnosis could potentially be deadly, since the treatment options between depression and Bipolar disorder are completely different. What about young people who have had a stroke, but are pigeonholed as unlikely stroke sufferers because of age and, therefore, deprived of life-saving treatments (I am speaking from personal experience, here)? Sometimes classifying people, based on general assumptions, can be injurious to their care.

Of course, medicine is not a black and white science. Second opinions are just that—opinions! The notion that you need a second opinion should say something about the scientific field; there is no truly right or wrong diagnosis. Reasons for getting other opinions vary: to get a consensus on a treatment, to disprove another physician’s diagnosis, or to see a specialized doctor more familiar with the condition. Getting another opinion is a great way to ease troubled minds.

Too much decision making is placed into physicians’ hands, and we forget that we are ultimately, the ones in charge of our own health care. We have to decide how we want our health monitored, and if we need a diagnosis in order to better care for ourselves. So, is it important for you to have a diagnosis when it comes to your physical or mental health?

5 thoughts on “And the Diagnosis Is…”

  1. Nice article Sarah! I needed a diagnosis so I’d stop worrying I was dying. However there have been times where it has led to less than adequate care. So many things can be attributed to fibromyalgia that things were not investigated as symptoms on their own. The sad thing is I didn’t realise I should keep questioning it. Thus it took 15 years to have my IBS checked out properly, only to find it had been completely manageable the whole time!

  2. Thanks, @jules. I know, finding a diagnosis can be frustrating, medicine isnt perfect, just like the people who study it, and I wish there was some ‘magic’ that could tell us exactly what we have and what to do about it. It is just trial and error, I guess.

  3. You are so right, Sarah…medicine isn’t perfect.

    Years ago, when I was active in the developmental disabilities field, many of my client’s went for many years without a diagnosis, some for life. Many of the parent’s would complain to me about this fact, especially regarding their very young offspring. It was if “having a diagnosis” was somehow comforting to them. To them, it was if having a diagnosis gave them more percieved confidence in those in charge of their child’s care, as well as, a pigeon-hole they could finally tuck away their child into and it helped the parents share information with others (i.e. – friends/relatives) about their child. But, the fact remains, many medical conditions defy a straight-forward, set in cement diagnosis.

    Differential diagnosis is a complicated entity, as many symtoms can be factors in many different anomalies. There is a reason they call it a medical “practice”, as many times it boils down to an educated guess.

  4. Oh Brad I can totally understand what you mean when you say “educated guess’s” In my case I felt like an old beat up junk car and the doctors kept telling me if we remove this it would fix everything. Before I knew it I had lost many parts and they were wanting to remove a majority part of my intestines and part of my colon.
    It’s unforunate that doctors make educated guess rather then being honest and saying I am sorry I really don’t know what is wrong so I am going to send you to a specialist that hopefully does.

  5. For four years, the Dr. blamed by shortness of breath and exhaustion on my post polio. Finally after complaining enough(perhaps I should have complained more) they discovered I had MERSA in my lungs, Some things can all be blamed on a diagnosis -lumped together without further investigation so sometimes a diagnoisis does hurt.

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