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IBS and Misdiagnosis

Being diagnosed with IBS can have a big impact on your life. Perhaps you’re simply happy to have a name for the illness that you’ve been living with, or perhaps you’re distressed because it’s a long term condition with which you can only focus on symptom management. However you feel about your diagnosis, you don’t expect it to be incorrect, but what happens if it is? Or you face other troubles with your treatment?

Your Legal Friend deal with medical misdiagnosis and poor treatment cases, and have brought together some information to guide you if you feel there’s been a problem with your treatment for IBS, or if you believe you were misdiagnosed with IBS.

How can you be misdiagnosed?

There are a number of ways to be misdiagnosed, but the two main ways are:

  • you were diagnosed with IBS but actually have a different condition
  • you were diagnosed with a different condition but actually have IBS.

Both of these versions of misdiagnosis can be extremely distressing and may also lead to incorrect treatment for your condition. For example, if you were diagnosed with IBS but actually have bowel cancer, you may not get timely treatment and your illness could worsen. However, if you received a bowel cancer misdiagnosis and you actually have IBS, you face another distressing situation and, again, possible incorrect treatment.

Misdiagnosis is quite rare, but a number of gastrointestinal conditions can present with similar symptoms which lead to a small number of people getting an incorrect diagnosis. IBS could be misdiagnosed as the following conditions:

  • coeliac disease
  • diverticulitis
  • endometriosis
  • lactose intolerance
  • crohn’s disease
  • bowel cancer
  • colitis.

These are not the only troubles you could face; you may have dealt with delayed treatment, where your doctor does not carry out the appropriate tests despite repeat visits over an extended period, or you could be diagnosed correctly but be given the wrong medications for your IBS. These are not misdiagnosis but fall under the more general term of ‘medical negligence’.

Misdiagnosis is a form of medical negligence, which means that your treatment was not carried out the way it should have been and you have become ill or injured as a result. When it comes to medical negligence, the law looks at it one of two ways:

  • did the doctor carry out treatment in a way the majority of the medical professionals would have?
  • Or, what treatment should the doctor have carried out, regardless of what the majority would have done?

What can you do about it?

If any of the above situations ring true, it can be very difficult to know what to do next. Living with something that affects so much of your life can be isolating and, sometimes, debilitating; not to mention financial difficulties if your condition affects your ability to work. But there are things you can do.

Make a complaint

Every medical practice, surgery and hospital has a procedure for making complaints, and most will readily provide you with the information. Each process is different but may involve a phone call, a meeting with a neutral party, a letter or an email. In the UK, there is the NHS Patient Advice and Liaison Service which is the first point of contact if you have problems.

A complaint is the best step if you feel your doctor has not taken the right steps in your diagnosis or treatment but you still want to be treated by them. However, if you do not and have decided to seek a different medical professional, making a complaint is still the best approach.

In most cases you can formalise or escalate a complaint if you are unsatisfied with the progress or outcome. This can be as simple as informing your contact that this is the next step you wish to take, or as complex as finding legal help.

Make a claim

If the complaints process does not suit the severity of your problem or has left you with financial difficulties, you may be able to take the step of using a solicitor or attorney to make a claim against the medical practice or hospital. This is a difficult decision to make and at Your Legal Friend, we always encourage you to be certain it is a step you want to take and that you’re not being pressured to do so.

The reason you may choose this course of action is loss of income due to extended or exacerbated illness (whether that is your IBS or another condition you have), reimbursement of additional medical or travel costs, and help with your future living conditions should you need additional treatments, an accessible home or other assistance.

If you have the available finances, you may contact a specialist lawyer and pay them directly to handle your case. However, if you do not, many lawyers offer “no win, no fee" agreements. These agreements mean that if you lose, you pay no money, but if you win (depending upon what you agreed to) you may have to pay a success fee to your lawyer. Often these success fees are covered by the other party, but ensure you know exactly what you’ve agreed to if you make a claim.

Thinking about your condition beyond the physical symptoms may not be something you’ve ever considered, and for some the thought of chasing complaints or claims is horrible, but if you think this might be the course of action for you, there is lots of information and help available on our website and we can advise you further if you wish.