A doctor slams 'fat bias,' saying a patient 'could have lost his life' because other doctors chalked up his rash and pain to obesity

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  • Mike Varshavski
    Russian-American celebrity doctor
Dr. Mike
Dr. Mike.Felix Kunze
  • A doctor said a man with joint pain, body aches, and fatigue likely had weight-related arthritis.

  • Dr. Mike spoke on YouTube about seeing the patient later and diagnosing him with Lyme disease.

  • Weight bias is pervasive in medicine and leads to poorer outcomes.

A popular doctor is speaking out about weight bias in medicine. He shared an example of a young man who he believed had undiagnosed Lyme disease, and whose symptoms were ignored.

For weeks, the man, who had morbid obesity, suffered body aches, joint pain, and fatigue. The man's first doctor chalked it all up to weight-related arthritis, said Dr. Mikhail Varshavski, better known as Dr. Mike on social media, after reviewing the patient's medical records.

But Varshavski said he thought the man was too young for that diagnosis. After investigating further, he diagnosed the patient with Lyme disease.

Varshavski said he believed the condition could have progressed to damage the man's heart and even lead to premature death if he had gone undiagnosed longer, describing the case on his YouTube channel.

"A lot of my patients do suffer with their quality of life because they fall into the category of morbid obesity," Varshavski said. "But it's also not right to blame everything that's going on without doing a proper history and physical."

The patient was given over-the-counter medications and creams

After the first doctor's diagnosis, Varshavski said, the patient was sent home to be treated with over-the-counter meds. But the man's pain intensified, and he developed a rash.

The patient then went to an urgent-care facility, where he received a topical steroid, his medical records showed. While it treated the rash, the patient told Varshavski it didn't ease the joint and muscle pain.

Next, the man returned to his doctor to report that he wasn't getting better. The doctor ordered X-rays but told the patient that the most likely cause of his symptoms was his weight, Varshavski said.

"If you look at the course of illness for this patient — the fact that it was getting worse; there is not only joint pain, but there is also body aches; there is also fatigue setting in, rashes starting to happen — these are multiple systems being involved, and that tells me something systemic is going on," Varshavski said.

That something, Varshavski said, was Lyme disease. He said he pieced it together using photos of the man's rash and questions about his lifestyle. The patient had a dog, which, the man said, had recently had a tick. Ticks can transmit Lyme disease.

Varshavski took blood for two tests: ELISA, which tests for antibodies against the bacteria that causes Lyme disease, and the Western blot, which is used to confirm a positive ELISA test.

Varshavski also prescribed the man doxycycline, an antibiotic that treats Lyme disease. Two weeks later, both tests came back positive, and the man's symptoms had disappeared.

"Had he progressed to late-stage Lyme disease and had neurologic or cardiac complications, he may have needed a hospital stay for IV antibiotics," Varshavski said. "He could have lost his life as a result of a cardiac arrhythmia."

Weight bias is pervasive in medicine and contributes to poorer outcomes

A significant majority — almost three-quarters, according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — of Americans are overweight or obese. And yet, clinicians can fall prey to long-held, but false, societal messaging that weight is a key indicator of health.

One study of more than 4,700 medical students across the country found that 74% exhibited implicit weight bias — meaning they weren't aware of their negative attitudes toward bigger-bodied people — and 67% had explicit weight bias, meaning they consciously had more negative feelings when, in this case, presented with photos of obese people.

As a result, people who are overweight or obese can receive inappropriate care because doctors may struggle to see beyond a patient's weight, and patients who've been scarred by weight bias may avoid seeking care.

Varshavski recommended that patients confront doctors who they believe are overemphasizing their weight or find another provider.

"That is your right as a patient," he said. "The relationship between a provider and a patient has to be strong in order for proper health outcomes to occur."

Read the original article on Insider

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