When It’s More Than Nerves: The Untold Dangers Of Misdiagnosing Anxiety

Today’s important post and photo are provided by my guest contributor, Sierra Richardson.

This is my life-saving story about perseverance, the importance of not apologizing for seeking critical medical treatment, and the consequences of misdiagnosis.

I’m a 25-year-old who has been called a “health nut” on numerous occasions. But a few weeks ago, my speech began to slur and the entire left side of my face and arm went numb. Thinking I was having an allergic reaction to my dinner, I took a Benadryl. When my symptoms persisted, I turned to my fiancé and muttered ‘E.R.’.

When I arrived in the emergency room, a physician assistant saw me. He repeatedly told me to relax because I was too young and healthy to be having a stroke. Within minutes of being evaluated, I was diagnosed with an allergic reaction, and was told if it happened again to take a Benadryl. Embarrassed, I apologized to him and the nurses. The entire visit lasted twenty minutes and shortly after my symptoms disappeared.

Little did they know, at that moment I was hemorrhaging in my brain, and a simple MRI would have shown it.

Despite my emergency room diagnosis, I felt like something wasn’t right. And six days later, when I began experiencing the same symptoms, I knew it was more serious than what I’d been told. I took a Benadryl and called a nurse hotline to hear another opinion. The hotline nurse told me to call an ambulance immediately, so back to the emergency room I went. This time an E.R. doctor saw me without delay but explained I was too young and healthy to be at risk for a stroke. He kept implying I was having anxiety and possibly experiencing a panic attack.

The E.R. doctor went on to say, “I wish we could do away with nurse hotlines altogether. They scare people into visiting the emergency room for no reason.” Embarrassed, I apologized for wasting their time again. When my EKG results and blood work came back normal, the doctor explained he didn’t recommend an MRI because it was highly unlikely anything of concern would be on it and also because it would be too expensive for me.

I was floored. Cost shouldn’t have any bearing on critical diagnostic screenings. My concerns were dismissed, and within an hour I was discharged with a diagnosis of anxiety.

When I got home, my symptoms subsided once again. Still, I felt defeated. I tried to convince myself that these symptoms were anxiety-related, but since my instincts told me otherwise, I decided to see a neurologist to get his expert opinion. Believing it to be migraines, the neurologist suggested I visit my primary care physician who further advised I keep an “Anxiety Diary”. Fortunately, I consulted back with the neurologist who then agreed to let me get an MRI, chiefly to ease my own worries.

Then my MRI results arrived and my whole world flipped upside down. My weekends spent hiking the Rocky Mountains came to a halt. My autumn wedding planning also came to a halt. And the excitement of recently passing the Colorado Bar Exam dissipated. Suddenly, the words seizures, hemorrhaging, and brain surgery took precedence. The MRI showed an abnormality on the frontal lobe in my brain, and when it had hemorrhaged, the bleeding and swelling were causing my symptoms, resulting in partial complex seizures – not anxiety.

A few days later, a neurosurgeon’s examination confirmed it, and we moved forward with a treatment plan.

Despite being a young adult and trying to navigate the intricacies of our nation’s healthcare system, I’ve learned to trust my instincts first. I hope by sharing my story it will empower you and your loved ones to be strong advocates when fighting for your health.

-Sierra Richardson is a resident of Colorado, a new attorney, and an avid knitter. To learn more about Sierra, you can connect with her on Instagram, @knittingwonders .

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