Why the misdiagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) is common

Photo Credit: Mayo Clinic
Photo Credit: Mayo Clinic

ROCHESTER, Minn. – According to Mayo Clinic neurologists, common conditions like migraines or fibromyalgia can be misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis or MS. Neurologist Brian Weinshenker, M.D. says he would consider the misdiagnosis of MS to be fairly common.

That’s why Mayo researchers have been looking into what factors are leading to the misdiagnosis. Since there is not specific test to detect MS, often times similar symptoms can be mistaken for MS symptoms. Weinshenker says there’s a push for many doctors to diagnose early in order to begin treatment as soon as possible.

“Once you put the patients on treatment, if they’re doing well, you usually assume that’s because of the treatment but in fact it may have nothing to do with the treatment, it may be that the diagnosis was wrong,” he explains.

While he adds that this should not create wide-spread concern, it is something patients should be aware of. Dr. Weinshenker says in some cases it is best to wait and watch a patient’s symptoms of fatigue and pain to see if they come and go; which would be consistent with a typical MS “attack.”

“When their main symptoms are continuing pain and aching and fatigue, these wouldn’t be typical symptoms for MS and I think that’s the kind of situation where they should ask their doctors,” he adds.

Another thing to consider is that research found that a majority of misdiagnosed patients did not have spinal fluid tests.

“90% of patients with MS will have abnormal spinal fluid tests, so the spinal fluid can be a very helpful way to be sure about the diagnosis.”

Another option for patients unsure about their diagnosis of MS is to seek a second opinion.



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