Monday June 16 2014

When your doctor gives you the wrong diagnosis

Photo by Micheal Kakumirizi

Photo by Micheal Kakumirizi 


As Sharon Akiror was showering one Monday morning, she noticed two small reddish lumps around the nipples of her right breast.

To the touch, they felt hard like half cooked beans. She panicked and rushed to the doctor about 200 metres from her home.

Before seeing him, the receptionist asked her to pay a consultation fee of Shs30,000, but Akiror had only Shs28,000, which her mother had given her.
“Just pay what you have. I will charge you the Shs2,000 the next time you come back here for treatment,” Akiror recalls the receptionist saying.
She was able to see the doctor who examined both breasts without asking about asking her past medical history. Afterwards, she was told to wait for an hour for the results.
“I was restless the entire time. I kept pacing up and down, biting my finger nails wondering what the problem could be,” the 24-year-old university student says.

The moment of truth finally came when the doctor called her back into his office.
“He offered a seat which I took while he sat on the opposite end,” she says. According to Akiror, the look in the doctor’s eye was serious.

“It was as if he was about to give me a life sentence,” she says.
“He told me that the two bumps were cancerous and that they needed to be removed,” Akiror recounts.

She remembers just walking out of his office and heading back home to cry. After sharing the news with a friend, she was advised to seek a second opinion from another doctor.
“This other doctor told me that they were just non-cancerous swellings caused by an allergic reaction and that they would disappear within two weeks.”

After this revelation, she decided to seek opinions from three other doctors.
They said the same thing, the lumps were non-cancerous and there was absolutely no need for her to worry herself.

Some people, however, have not been as lucky as Akiror who discovered early enough that the diagnosis she was given by the first doctor was wrong.

Some of them realise when it is rather too late, after spending a lot of money on medical bills and undergoing a series of treatments that were not intended for that particular ailment.

A case in point is that of 25-year-old Angella Nansikombi, also a university student. After developing swellings around her vagina, she visited a doctor who diagnosed it as a Urinary Tract Infection (UTI).

She received three injections within a month and was given tablets to swallow within the same time frame. The drugs often made her weak.

When the swellings on the other hand increased in number, she insisted that the doctor carries out another test. When he did, only to realise that she indeed had genital warts.
“I was angry at him for having made such a wrong diagnosis, mostly because I was afraid of the long-term effects of the drugs and also the additional expenses because, the bill had now accumulated to more than Shs280,000,” says the university studen.


Dr Alex Kakoraki, a general practitioner at Murchison Bay Hospital in Luzira explains that misdiagnosis is, in fact, a big problem in the medical field and it happens due to a number of causes brought about by the doctor and the patients themselves.

“If a medical officer examines a patient without analysing their past medical history or even uses the inappropriate equipment such as expired kits for carrying out tests, there is a probability of making a wrong diagnosis,” Dr Kakoraki says.

Another occurrence is when a patient is diagnosed by a wrong specialist.
“For instance, a pharmacist who goes ahead to play the role of a doctor and ends up coming up with something totally different from what a qualified medical practitioner would have stated,” he adds.

Self-made doctors commonly known as quacks have also been known to falsify patients’ results to the extent that some of them go ahead and perform surgeries so as to make more money.

On January 10, 2014, this newspaper reported that in 2013, the National Drug Authority closed more than 3,000 drug outlets and shops that did not conform to the required standards and regulations. Most of them were operators who sold unauthorised, expired or counterfeit drugs, lacked trained pharmacists, had unsuitable premises, and had no licences for the businesses and products they were trading in, or were not licensed at all.

This is only evident of how many of these self-made doctors are out there.


Most times, when a patient discovers that the diagnosis is wrong, they go up in arms, blaming it all on the doctor.

Dr Karuhanga, a general practitioner at Friends Poly Clinic, however, says misdiagnosis may happen because certain ailments have similar signs and symptoms and may be difficult to distinguish.

“Diseases, especially infectious ones, have similar symptoms and there is likelihood that a medical practitioner may make the wrong diagnosis,” he explains.
If you doubt a given diagnosis, seek a second opinion.


Dr Kakoraki highlights some of the things patients ought to do in order to avoid being given the wrong diagnosis by their respective doctors ;

•Get treatment from well-established health institutions with a team of qualified doctors

•When you are seeing the doctor, do not be shy. Ask him as many questions as possible.

•Ensure that you always read the instructions written on any medicine before taking it.

•Always go for reviews from the doctor who made the first diagnosis.

•Exhibit atmost self-confidence when seeing the doctor and do not to be intimated.

• Keenly observe the doctor’s actions. If you are suspicious of anything, do not let them work on you. Follow your instincts.

•Always consider seeking a second diagnosis for serious ailments or complications.
•Develop a culture of reading extensively. For instance, if the doctor says that you have typhoid, read on your own on about its causes, signs and symptoms and preventable measures. It is very easy to manage a disease when you have more knowledge about it.


Patients tend to bring this misfortune upon themselves through self-medication and giving wrong information to the doctor.

“The problem with self-medication is that the individual is not really sure of what they are really treating.

One may think that the tablets they are taking are the right ones and yet they are the wrong type,” says Dr Alex Kakoraki, a general practitioner at Murchison Bay Hospital. He adds, “If one also decides to give the wrong kind of information during examination, the doctor is not to blame for prescribing the wrong diagnosis in the long run.”


“Depending on what kind of prescription one has taken, a patient may develop an allergic reaction as one of the complications.”

They may likely get a rash, small painful bumps or even an itchy skin,” says Dr Vincent Karuhanga, a general practitioner at Friends Poly Clinic.
The other outcome from using wrong prescriptions is that the drugs will obviously fail to work on a particular ailment, therefore, making one’s illness to become even more advanced.

One may also develop a few psychological and behavioural disorders as a result of taking wrong medication.

“An individual may for instance develop hallucinations as well as have trouble sleeping and eating,” says Dr Karuhanga.
Some of the advanced complications, Dr Karuhanga adds, include damage of vital organs such as the liver and kidney, manifestation of more chronic illnesses such as cancer which may eventually lead to death.
Dr Kakoraki says it can bring about stunted growth in children since the drugs may contribute towards the failure of some of their body functions.


Dr Karuhanga points out eleven ailments that medical practitioners often misdiagnose:
•A skin allergy mistaken for chicken pox
• A fungal infection mistaken for an allergy
•A migraine confused for a headache
•Asthma mistaken for heart disease
•Peptic ulcers mistaken for stones in the gall bladder
•Malaria mistaken for food poisoning
•Diabetes with a urinary tract infection
•A woman who is unaware that she is pregnant may be told that she is suffering from malaria instead.
•A common cold mistaken for typhoid
•Syphilis mistaken for gonorrhoea or vice versa
•A urinary tract infection diagnosed instead as a pelvic inflammatory disease.