Your Guide To Misdiagnosis Of Bowel Conditions

Originally published on: May 21st, 2018. Last modified on January 29th, 2022

Being diagnosed with a bowel condition is a life-changing experience, and most are simply relieved to have a diagnosis and a direction to follow for treatment.

What if you’re several months or years down the line with treatment and aren’t getting better? What if you’re getting worse?

Unfortunately, many bowel conditions are hard to treat and long-term testing of medications to tailor your treatment is common, but in some rare cases, the wrong diagnosis might have been given meaning that treatment will not only fail but could cause your condition to persist or worsen.

If you’re reading this article, then you suspect or recently became aware that something is wrong with your treatment. Before we tackle actions to take, let’s address the ways you can be misdiagnosed or wrongly treated.

Bowel Xray

What ways can I be misdiagnosed?

Misdiagnosis of bowel conditions can take on a few different forms, but the most obvious is that you were diagnosed with a condition you do not have.

For example:

  • You have Crohn’s but were misdiagnosis with diverticulitis, or
  • You have bowel cancer and were misdiagnosed with IBS

In these sorts of situations, treatment for either condition is very different and mistreatment, due to your condition being wrongly identified, could be harmful to you.

When it comes to bowel and digestive problems, a lot of symptoms are quite similar, and so the following conditions can be misdiagnosed as another –

  • Coeliac disease
  • Food Intolerances
  • Irritable bowel syndrome
  • Irritable bowel disease
  • Colitis
  • Diverticulitis
  • Crohn’s disease
  • Endometriosis
  • Colorectal cancer

This list is by no means exhaustive, as some other illnesses can also affect gut health, and present with common symptoms of diarrhoea, constipation, blood in your stools and abdominal pain. However, the diagnoses of many of the listed conditions have very different methods of testing that should lead to the correct disease being identified.

Even when several different diseases use the same method of testing, such as a colonoscopy, the test results are usually distinct enough to produce a correct diagnosis. This might be where your problem lies; the correct tests were not carried out.

What other problem can I have with treatment?

Misdiagnosis isn’t the only problem you can face with treatment, there are two other ways you can encounter difficulties.

Firstly, you might have contended with delayed diagnosis, which is when a doctor does not carry out appropriate testing over an extended period of time despite your symptoms. This can mean your condition gets worse or becomes harder to treat because it has developed so much further.

Secondly, you may face poor treatment, which means you may be diagnosed correctly but are still given incorrect treatments or are not given check-ups to monitor your condition. For example, if you suffer from ulcerative colitis your chances of developing bowel cancer are increased and you should have regular check-ups to monitor your health.

What action should I take?

Even with an explanation of how you can encounter medical negligence and the conditions it can affect, you may still be unsure whether any of this applies to you.

If this is the case, the first place to go is your main doctor or consultant who you should have a frank discussion with. If this is intimidating or makes you uncomfortable, you can access NHS PALS (Patient Advice and Liaison Service) who can explain why certain steps may have been taken if they are a common patient path, or they can act as an intermediary if your case has been handled differently. Not only that, but should you feel it necessary after conversing with them, they can help you make a complaint against the doctor, medical practice or hospital.

What should I do if I really have been misdiagnosed?

Your priority will be ensuring you receive the correct tests to determine your condition and then beginning the appropriate treatment. This will also be the top priority of any medical staff involved in your treatment thus far.

After this, should you feel you want to, you should make a formal complaint via NHS PALS. This will often lead to an investigation of your case which will hopefully pinpoint where problems with your treatment occurred and, if necessary, will help to inform new procedures that will prevent something similar happening again. However, a formal complaint and investigation do not automatically lead to change, so it’s best to expect a simple explanation and, perhaps, an apology.

Taking further Action

Should you feel that a complaint is not enough for the error made, or you suffered financially because of it, you might wish to make a claim for compensation. Many law firms that handle such claims have to be very specific about what criteria a case meets and so will ask many questions and ask you to provide and sign a lot of paperwork; therefore it is necessary that you are certain this is a course of action you want to take while you are in treatment and recovery.

To give you an idea of what’s involved, if you were to make a bowel cancer claim, for example, you’d need to:

  • begin the claim within three years of finding out about the error or misdiagnosis
  • provide medical records
  • meet with medical experts retained by the law firm
  • give a statement of what happened
  • possibly have family members or friends give statements
  • provide evidence of financial losses that are due to your illness
  • and possibly (although it is very rare) go to Court

For many, the process is worth the outcome, but for others, the process is too demanding; whatever your decision about making a claim, ensure it is yours and you are not pressured by outside sources.