Note: This article discusses ectopic pregnancy.
One of the things a doctor, dentist, or other medical professional is supposed to do while meeting with a patient is discuss symptoms and medical history.
But sometimes, even though doctors will inquire about these things, a patient might not disclose them for myriad reasons. Those reasons might range from forgetting about certain histories or symptoms (thanks to the inherent stress of being in a doctor's office in the first place), or not thinking certain information was vital to mention, or simply having lived so long with a condition that symptoms have become an overlooked part of their daily life.
However, when a symptom or other important factor of one's medical history is not disclosed, it's possible that this bit of information can alter how a medical professional might choose to proceed, treat, or diagnose altogether.
1. "A lady presented with acute abdominal pain. MRI indicated that she was pregnant. She knew she was pregnant and didn’t tell me."
2. "My dad had a patient who forgot to mention they had situs inversus, meaning the arrangement of the organs was a mirror image of normal anatomy. They only mentioned it after a few minutes of my dad having a hard time hearing their heartbeat."
3. "Working as a dental hygienist, I always review and update medical history and ask if there are any changes. Many patients will say, 'Well, nothing related to my teeth.' Like, whhhaat? Your teeth aren’t part of your body? While I was cleaning someone’s teeth, we were chatting, and the patient mentioned how he had a heart attack and a bypass a couple of weeks ago. (Sir, I don’t think this is the best time for your dental cleaning. Go home and recover!) So now I always ask: 'Any changes in your health, recent surgeries, or hospitalization?'"
4. "(Doctor here.) I had a baby coming in for surgery. The parents reported no prior history. I asked why the baby has a G-tube, which is a feeding tube implanted in the abdomen. Parents: 'Oh, he has laryngomalacia' (floppy airway). Like, that won’t get in the way at all during a surgery where we have to intubate…"
5. "I was working on a general medical unit. The patient was in his 20s with new joint pain, UTI symptoms, and a painful eye. We were thinking of reactive arthritis. I said, 'Sir, I’ve got your lab work back, as we talked about this morning. There seems to be some inflammation going on. The most common cause of this condition is food poisoning or an STI, like chlamydia. I asked earlier, but just to confirm, have you had any recent tummy bugs?' Patient: 'No.' Me: 'So no recent dodgy takeaways or barbecues? No random vomiting or diarrhea?' Patient: 'Not at all.' Me: 'Okay, have you ever had sex?' Patient: 'No.' Me: 'Just to confirm, that means any sexual activity at all — which includes oral, anal, and vaginal.' Patient: 'No.' Me: 'Okay, that’s unusual. I’m going to go chat with my consultant and I’ll come back.'
6. "ER nurse here. Last month, an older gentleman came in complaining of having recently fallen a few times in two weeks — and feeling lightheaded/weak/fatigued. We'd asked a bunch of questions, but it was only while we were taking off his street clothes and putting him into a gown did we notice he had an implanted pacemaker. The doc asked him, 'Oh, when did you have your pacemaker put in?' The patient said, 'About five years ago — but I went to the clinic a couple of days ago and they said my pacemaker wasn't functioning.' The doctor threw up his arms and walked out of the room. The man was falling and feeling weak because his heart wasn't being paced TO BEAT PROPERLY AND PUMP BLOOD ADEQUATELY TO HIS BODY/BRAIN."
7. "We had a patient who had come into our obstetrics and gynecology department with complaints of vaginal bleeding and vague abdominal pain for the second time in a month. She assumed it was irregular menses — probably due to some hormonal imbalance or stress — and wanted some medication for it. While she was talking to us, she suddenly felt weak and fainted. Once she gained consciousness, she assured us she was fine and it was probably because she'd skipped breakfast that morning. We asked her to get a pregnancy test done just in case, along with a routine ultrasound."
8. "I went to see someone who had been shot in the arm. He was in complete pain, swearing at us, uncooperative, and wouldn't let us ask questions. We got him to the hospital ASAP, and the police met us and asked if this was the guy who had been run over. We said no, but then the guy piped up that he was. He had been actually run over by a car wheel and we had no idea."
—Lucia Smith, Facebook
9. "I was still a student when this happened: A man in his 20s or 30s came to the ER with a headache. He said it was terrible, and it seemed so. Everybody thought it was a bad migraine because he started vomiting. After that, I was asking him if this had ever happened before, and he told me that he was seeing a neurologist a year ago but lost the appointment and never came back. I saw the guys from neurology and told them about the guy even when my superior had told me to send him home (something in my gut was telling me that there was something more). When they examined him, they ended up sending him to do a CT on his head — he had a tumor covering almost half his brain."
10. "Had a patient who came to the ED for body aches and a cough. When he came in, he denied all other symptoms, his vitals were all stable, and he had no medical history. He just wanted some Tylenol and to go home. We swabbed for COVID and flu, and all came back negative. As I was handing him his discharge paperwork, he casually mentioned that he'd also been coughing up blood for a couple of weeks. Sure enough, bilateral pulmonary embolisms."
11. "I wasn't a medical practitioner but a caseworker. One dude had a noticeable drinking problem — like, physically damaging. I asked him if he'd been drinking recently, and he said, 'Not really, just a case last night.'"
12. "A friend of mine mentioned in passing to her doctor that she had some pain in her eye when she looked to the side. Her doctor immediately made an appointment with an ophthalmologist, and she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Because they caught it early, very little damage had been done and she’s doing really well."
13. "We had a man in his late 50s come in for a clavicle X-ray. He was very much his age and demographic — he was very skilled in carpentry and a hard worker but took poor care of his physical health. He told us he hadn't been to a doctor for anything in almost 10 years before this. Two weeks before going to urgent care, he fell about 10 feet from a ladder at work. Walked it off as men like this often do. The pain got worse, it started to affect his gait and ability to walk in general, and he was swollen all over one side of his chest. His boss basically told him either go to the doctor or don't come back because it wasn't okay. They were worried about him, and also, it was a liability."
"The clavicle normally looks like this: ---- (but curved). His clavicle looked like this: - / -. The man had been working and walking around with an almost fully vertical clavicle break floating in his shoulder for two weeks. One of the most WTF moments in my seven-plus years working in healthcare."
14. "I wear contacts and went in for a simple, routine eye checkup. The doctor asked me if I had any concerns. I almost didn't say anything but mentioned, 'It's not really bothersome, but I have little light halos in my peripheral vision only, no big deal.' She says, 'OK, we'll just run some extra tests.' Half an hour later, she took my hands and said, 'I need you to go to the ER right now and get an MRI and CT scan.' My optic nerves were severely swollen, which made her wonder what else in my head, like my brain, could be swollen, which meant a possible tumor. The scariest night of my life."
"Thank goodness it was NOT a tumor, but imaging and tests showed I have intracranial hypertension: My body overproduces cerebrospinal fluid, which puts pressure on the brain and optic nerves.
"Left untreated, I could have gone blind. We did a spinal tap and INSTANTLY, the light halos were gone. I take medication to manage the condition, but lesson learned: NOTHING is too small to mention to your doctor!"
15. "I went to the doctor with a totally unrelated issue and casually mentioned at the end that I thought my neck looked fuller on one side. I assumed swollen lymph nodes, as my son had just started daycare and we were constantly sick with something. She felt around and told me it felt close to my thyroid. Turns out I had thyroid cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes and was hidden under a muscle. So even at my physical, a month prior, she hadn't noticed anything. I'm forever thankful for my own absurd vanity that I mentioned it."
16. "We had a kid who came to the ER. He was bouncing on the trampoline the day before and hurt himself. The following day it hurt too much, so his parents took him to the ER. He wasn't crying and could move fine. He had a helical fracture up his entire leg. How in the hell was he walking on it for a day?!"
17. "I had a lot of cavities filled when I was 16. Cut to 11 years later, and I'm in labor getting a spinal block for an emergency C-section. The anesthesiologist asked if I'd ever had oral surgery. I said no because I thought that root canals or extractions didn't count. During the procedure, I could feel a dull pain and burn at the incision. It was so uncomfortable, I had to request more pain medication. All went well, and my son was delivered healthy. Later, the anesthesiologist said that feeling during surgery was not normal and asked me to open my mouth. I did, revealing my silver fillings, and the doctor gave me a wild look. I felt so dumb for not even considering that."
18. "Working as a hygienist, there have been so many times when I go over a patient's medical history and list of medications and they say, 'No, changes.' And then the doctor comes in and they go, 'Oh, I had a heart attack last month' or 'Oh, I just got my hip replaced,' and the doctor looks at me like I did something wrong."
If you're a medical professional, has a patient ever disclosed information that ended up changing the course of their checkup, treatment, or diagnosis? Tell us in the comments below.
Note: Some responses have been edited for length and/or clarity.