Many rheumatic diseases have symptoms that overlap, and blood tests are rarely conclusive. While there are no data to show which rheumatic diseases are most commonly misdiagnosed, here are some that are well-known for being tricky to detect. Doctors often arrive at these diagnoses by ruling out many other possibilities first.
• SJÖGREN’S SYNDROME
What it is: An autoimmune disease that attacks the body’s moisture-producing glands. The most distinctive features of Sjögren’s syndrome are dry eyes and dry mouth, but this condition can affect the entire body, damaging organs such as the liver, lungs, kidneys and stomach. According to the Sjögren’s Syndrome Foundation, on average, it takes patients up to seven years to receive a diagnosis of Sjögren’s.
Mistaken for: fibromyalgia, chronic fatigue syndrome, allergic conjunctivitis (eye allergies), medication side effects, blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelash follicles), xerophthalmia (dry eyes caused by decreased tear production)
What it is: A disease in which the body attacks its own joints, skin, tendons and vital organs. Lupus is episodic, meaning that symptoms will flare and then disappear. Doctors have dubbed lupus “The Great Imitator” because of its ability to look like so many other diseases.
Mistaken for: RA, scleroderma, rosacea, multiple sclerosis, Lyme disease, depression, vasculitis, myositis (inflammation of muscle tissue), endocarditis (inflammation of the sac around the heart), fibromyalgia, meningitis
What it is: A clinical syndrome characterized by a mix of symptoms which may include persistent, widespread pain, muscle spasms, mood disturbance, fatigue, insomnia, problems with memory and concentration and irritable bowel syndrome
Mistaken for: RA, osteoarthritis (OA), Lyme disease, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypothyroidism, depression, lupus, neuropathy, sciatica, anemia
Average Time To Diagnosis
In many rheumatic diseases, symptoms develop gradually, and the full clinical picture can only be appreciated over time.
Here are the average amounts of time it takes doctors to make a diagnosis from the time symptoms first appear:
Rheumatoid arthritis 6 to 9 months
Juvenile arthritis 5 months
Fibromyalgia 2 to 5 years
Sjögren’s syndrome 3 to 7 years
Ankylosing spondylitis 6 to 9 years
* Compiled from recent, published studies and patient surveys