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Pfizer Inc. (PFE), Merck & Co., Inc. (MRK): The Five Most Misdiagnosed Diseases

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There’s little denying that the technological, research, and medicinal aspects of patient care are improving at breakneck speed. But sometimes, even the best medical care in the world just isn’t enough to help someone. Occasionally this is because of the nature of a disease itself (i.e., many diseases still aren’t well understood or are resistant to current medication), but in other case cases it’s because of a patient being improperly diagnosed or receiving a delayed diagnosis.

Source: Rhoda Baer, National Cancer Institute.

The onus of a misdiagnosis is often placed on the physician, and with good reason — they’re the doctors, and we expect them to be all-knowing. However, plenty of misdiagnoses or delayed diagnoses can also be attributed to patient negligence in failing to take action in a timely manner when symptoms present themselves. Disease misdiagnosis is a two-way street that has plenty of room for improvement, but until recently had also been largely misunderstood — that is, until a study in 2009 shed light on the most commonly misdiagnosed diseases.

Before this study, there had been no large database chronicling misdiagnoses, thus leaving no way for patients or physicians to know what diseases they should pay extra special care in diagnosing. And that’s kind of a big deal, with as many as 98,000 people dying each year from preventable diseases because of medical errors.

However, a team of five physicians in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., sought to rectify this problem by compiling a meta-analysis (a fancy word for combining and comparing statistical results from multiple studies) of autopsy and malpractice data. The final research for this study included data from 31 separate reports.

The benefit of this data is twofold: it exposes problem areas in diagnosing certain diseases, which should help improve attention to detail from both physicians and patients exhibiting those symptoms, and it highlights the potential for more accurate diagnostic equipment. As investors, it also gives us definable opportunities to take advantage of instances where certain medicines or diagnostics may greatly increase in usage to improve patients’ quality of life.

Here are the study’s results for the five most misdiagnosed diseases based on autopsy and malpractice data, combined.

No. 5: Cardiovascular disease
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, heart disease was the leading cause of death in the U.S. in 2011 (responsible nearly 600,000 deaths), so it’s not surprising to see it among the most commonly misdiagnosed diseases. A big concern here lies with the patient and in their ability to relay symptoms to their doctor. A heart attack, for example, may present relatively few symptoms, such as general nausea and a feeling of being full in a patient’s chest. A doctor, in turn, needs to be able to recognize subtle symptoms as a possible sign of heart disease and not hesitate to order follow-up tests.

One simple way of reducing your chances of developing a cardiovascular disease is by getting more preventative screenings. Based on a CDC report, nearly one-third of U.S. adults have high cholesterol and high blood pressure, making it all the more important that people take this preventative step. This sheds light on next-generation cholesterol-lowering medications like oft-highlighted Liptruzet which was approved by the Food and Drug Administration in May and could see a bump in sales if more people took this preventative step. Liptruzet, which combines the now generic LDL-fighting power of Pfizer Inc. (NYSE:PFE)‘s Lipitor, with the cholesterol absorption inhibiting prowess of Merck & Co., Inc. (NYSE:MRK)‘s Zetia, lowered LDL-cholesterol (the bad type) by 53% to 61% in patients — a much bigger reduction than each drug delivered individually.

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