MS is complex and can cause many different symptoms. There are a range of tests that can be used to find out whether someone has MS, but no single test is conclusive on its own.
As a result, it is not uncommon for someone who experiences MS-type symptoms to be misdiagnosed as having MS, when in fact something else is causing these symptoms.
In this study from University of Vermont, Burlington, USA, investigators looked at the records of 110 people from four different clinical centres across the USA who have been misdiagnosed as having MS.
Approximately 22% of the cases misdiagnosed as MS were people with migraine. Other alternate diagnoses included fibromyalgia (15%), psychogenic issues (11%) and neuromyelitis optica (6%).
For many of these people, misdiagnosis had continued for ten years or more and 70% of the people who had been misdiagnosed had been receiving MS treatments. Investigators found earlier opportunities to make a correct diagnosis in 72% of all the cases.
In 25% of these cases the neurologist made the misdiagnosis, which suggests that both specialised and more general doctors were susceptible to mistakes.
The investigators of this study underline the difficulties in diagnosing MS and suggest that physicians should strictly adhere to MS diagnostic (McDonald) criteria with longitudinal assessments as misdiagnosis of MS leads to unnecessary and potentially harmful risks to patients.
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