Lessons in clinical reasoning - Pitfalls, myths, and pearls: A woman brought to a halt

Austin Rezigh, Alec Rezigh, Stephanie Sherman

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Limitations in human cognition commonly result in clinical reasoning failures that can lead to diagnostic errors. A metacognitive structured reflection on what clinical findings fit and/or do not fit with a diagnosis, as well as how discordance of data can help advance the reasoning process, may reduce such errors. A 60-year-old woman with Hashimoto thyroiditis, diabetes, and generalized anxiety disorder presented with diffuse arthralgias and myalgias. She had been evaluated by physicians of various specialties and undergone multiple modalities of imaging, as well as a electromyography/nerve conduction study (EMG/NCS), leading to diagnoses of fibromyalgia, osteoarthritis, and lumbosacral plexopathy. Despite treatment for these conditions, she experienced persistent functional decline. The only definitive alleviation of her symptoms identified was in the few days following intra-articular steroid injections for osteoarthritis. On presentation to our institution, she appeared fit with a normal BMI. She was a long-time athlete and had been training consistently until her symptoms began. Prediabetes had been diagnosed the year prior and her A1c progressed despite lifestyle modifications and 10 pounds of intentional weight loss. She reported fatigue, intermittent nausea without emesis, and reduced appetite. Examination revealed intact strength and range of motion in both the shoulders and hips, though testing elicited pain. She had symmetric hyperreflexia as well as a slowed, rigid gait. Autoantibody testing revealed strongly positive serum GAD-65 antibodies which were confirmed in the CSF. A diagnosis of stiff-person syndrome was made. She had an incomplete response to first-line therapy with high-dose benzodiazepines. IVIg was initiated with excellent response and symptom resolution. Through integrated commentary on the diagnostic reasoning process from clinical reasoning experts, this case underscores the importance of frequent assessment of fit along with explicit explanation of dissonant features in order to avoid misdiagnosis and halt diagnostic inertia. A fishbone diagram is provided to visually demonstrate the major factors that contributed to the diagnostic error. The case discussant demonstrates the power of iterative reasoning, case progression without commitment to a single diagnosis, and the dangers of both explicit and implicit bias. Finally, this case provides clinical teaching points in addition to a pitfall, myth, and pearl specific to overcoming diagnostic inertia.

Original languageEnglish (US)
StateAccepted/In press - 2024


  • clinical reasoning
  • diagnostic foothold
  • diagnostic inertia
  • problem representation
  • stiff-person syndrome

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Public Health, Environmental and Occupational Health
  • Biochemistry, medical
  • Health Policy
  • Clinical Biochemistry
  • Medicine (miscellaneous)


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