differential diagnosis

A differential diagnosis is a working list of possibilities that a physician uses in the process of diagnosing a specific disease. Actually, the differential diagnosis is rarely specifically stated or written down in daily office practice, but it is a mental tool used in just about every patient encounter outside of the well check-up, and is a part of the documentation of any diagnostic admission to the hospital. After listing mentally or on paper the possible conditions or diseases under consideration, the physician then compares what he knows about the case to the list of possibilities and begins to narrow the choices, discarding those that don't fit and prioritizing the most likely candidates to the top of the list. It may then be necessary to perform additional physical examination, lab tests, or imaging studies - xray or ultrasound, CT or MRI - to confirm or exclude the remaining possibilities.

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