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Thousands die from diseases that doctors didn’t even know they had

Thousands of people die every year from diseases that are never spotted by doctors – and the numbers of ‘unknown deaths’ could be as high as deaths from breast cancer.

Researchers discovered medicine’s blind spot when they reviewed deaths of critically-ill patients who were being treated in intensive care units in hospitals across the US.  They found that 28 per cent of the patients – which totalled 40,500 people - had diseases and complications that had never been diagnosed by the doctors.  Of these, at least 8 per cent had diseases that directly contributed to their death.

The researchers, from Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, believe that ‘unknown deaths’ could be as great as deaths from breast cancer.

The most common conditions being missed by doctors included heart attack, pulmonary embolism (an artery blockage in the lungs), pneumonia, and aspergillosis, a fungal infection that affects people with a weakened immune system.

(Source: BMJ Quality & Safety, 2012; doi: 10.1136/bmjqs-2012-000803).