Differential Diagnosis refers to the process used to diagnose a condition when there is no unique symptom. To perform a differential diagnosis, each symptom is evaluated and the most likely cause of the symptoms in total is then used as the working diagnosis. You’re most likely familiar with the term and process, but have you ever thought about what it all means to your personal health?
Many of us rely upon the results of a test to verify a diagnosis. It might be a skin test for an allergy. A blood test for diabetes. When you think about it, most illnesses you’ve encountered are likely to have either a definitive test or a test with a very strong indicator of that particular illness. So what happens when the illness in question is not an illness with such a test or indicator?
Alzheimer’s is a an excellent example of such an illness. In the case of Alzheimer’s, which usually occurs after decisions about career, marriage, family, etc. have been made, an improper or inconclusive diagnosis is upsetting and distressing. The diagnosis will affect decisions made for the foreseeable future, but the diagnosis will not occur at a time when it will alter the decisions that shape a lifetime. In the case of an illness that is diagnosed in childhood or early adulthood, an improper or inconclusive diagnosis can have devastating effects in the present, as well as in the future.
With the diagnosis come questions of medication, restrictions on activity, future progression of the illness… It’s daunting. With greater research into the human genome, it may be possible to find markers for these illnesses. They won’t necessarily be able to be “cured,” but with a method for definitive diagnosis, they will be able to be treated most effectively.