The right diagnosis is not always as clearcut as it seems. Among older Americans, the symptoms of depression can look a lot like Alzheimer's. The aches and pains that sometimes coincide with depression can be easily misdiagnosed as fibromyalgia or arthritis, and some symptoms of cancer are easy to overlook – that is, until they turn deadly. Getting the right diagnosis is key to the best treatment possible. The good news is that there's plenty you can do to increase your odds of getting the right diagnosis the first time.
1. Be honest
It's not always easy to talk about everything you're dealing with. Maybe you were raised to believe that depression is a sign of weakness, or you're embarrassed that you occasionally lose control of your bladder. Perhaps you drink too much, but you're not yet ready to kick the habit. Don't allow embarrassment to stand in the way of an accurate medical diagnosis. Make a list of all of your symptoms, including those that seem irrelevant, and discuss them each with your doctor.
2. Ask about alternative diagnoses
The first diagnosis is not always the right one. If your diagnosis doesn't seem to explain all of your symptoms, or if you're worried you might have something else, don't be afraid to speak up. Ask your doctor if there are any tests that can clarify the diagnosis, or whether your symptoms are better explained by a different disorder. And don't neglect the role of multiple diagnoses. If you have more than one medical condition, the first diagnosis is unlikely to explain all your symptoms, so keep pushing till you get an answer.
3. Track your progress
You want an accurate diagnosis so that treatment can work quirky and effectively. And one of the best ways to ensure treatment works is to track your progress. Keep a log of your symptoms, then monitor the changes over the course of weeks or months. If things don't get better, you may have been misdiagnosed. And if you experience new symptoms, you could be suffering from a negative – and potentially life-threatening – reaction to your medication. Perhaps even more important, by tracking your symptoms, you make it easier for your doctor to evaluate his diagnosis, make adjustments as needed, and recommend lifestyle changes that may help.
4. Get a second opinion
No doctor is perfect. So when you're staring down the barrel of a life-altering diagnosis, it makes good sense to double-check your doctor's work. Ask your doctor for a referral to another specialist for a second opinion. If the two doctors disagree, you may even need to seek a third opinion or undergo additional tests. This might feel like a hassle now, but six months from now, when you're in better health and not experiencing terrible medication side effects, you'll be glad you pursued another opinion.