Several years ago I had to go to an urgent care clinic. I don’t remember what I went in for, but I do remember I had to pee in a cup, and my urine was sent to a lab for analysis.
A day or two later I got a phone call from a man who told me that the lab had found leucine crystals in my urine. He sounded nervous and uncomfortable delivering this news. He urged me to follow up with my family doctor right away, and then he hung up.
As soon as I got off the phone I Googled “leucine crystals” and found out that their presence in urine is a sign of irreversible liver failure.
Basically, I was dying.
A reality check
I had no primary care doctor at the time. Panicked, I called a neighbor who is a family doctor. She reasoned with me and suggested the lab results were wrong.
“If you were dying of liver failure, your skin would look yellow. I saw you last week and you were not yellow,” she said.
Just to be safe, she ordered more lab tests and we made an appointment for an in-office visit. The new lab work and face-to-face visit suggested I was perfectly healthy. My new doctor was right—the first lab had made a mistake.
An accurate diagnosis is supported by multiple diagnostic criteria
Now, I’m not suggesting you never trust a lab report, but my experience illustrates why each step of the diagnostic process is important.
Just as patients can be imperfect in reporting their symptoms, lab reports and medical imaging can be incorrect, incomplete, or misleading. That’s why doctors use lab results and medical images in conjunction with—not as a substitute for—information gathered during the patient interview and physical examination.
Diagnosing arthritic conditions
You can learn more about how doctors diagnose arthritic conditions here on Arthritis-health. Our pages have information about what to expect during a patient interview and physical exam, and also talk about when and why specific types of medical imaging (like X-rays) and lab tests are ordered.