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Multiple Sclerosis Misdiagnosis

It is possible -- and common -- for a person to be misdiagnosed while actually having multiple sclerosis. Misdiagnosis can occur for a number of reasons. For example, early symptoms tend to be vague and attacks are usually mild. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis are also similar to many other diseases, which also increases the chance of a misdiagnosis.


Multiple Sclerosis Misdiagnosis: An Overview

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is notoriously difficult to diagnose, because early symptoms of the disease can be vague, can mimic other diseases, and can come and go. So while some people are diagnosed with MS soon after the illness begins, doctors may not be able to readily identify the cause of the symptoms in others. This can lead to years of uncertainly and multiple diagnoses and symptoms that come and go.
Because of recent advances in technology, most patients who undergo an evaluation for multiple sclerosis will be classified as either having multiple sclerosis or not having multiple sclerosis, although there are still cases where a person may have the clinical symptoms of MS but not meet all the criteria to confirm a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. In these cases, a "possible multiple sclerosis" diagnosis is used.

Conditions That Mimic MS

Another reason diagnosing multiple sclerosis can be challenging is that a number of other diseases may produce symptoms similar to those seen in multiple sclerosis.
Other conditions with an intermittent course and MS-like lesions of the brain's white matter include:
  • Polyarteritis
  • Lupus erythematosus
  • Syringomyelia
  • Tropical spastic paraparesis
  • Some cancers
  • Certain tumors that compress the brainstem or spinal cord.
Progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy can mimic the acute stage of an MS attack.
Physicians will also need to rule out a number of other conditions that can mimic the symptoms of MS, including:
  • Stroke
  • Neurosyphilis
  • Spinocerebellar ataxias
  • Pernicious anemia
  • Diabetes
  • Sjogren's disease
  • Vitamin B12 deficiency.
Acute transverse myelitis may signal the first attack of MS, or it may indicate other problems, such as infection with the Epstein-Barr or herpes simplex B viruses.
Recent reports suggest that the neurological problems associated with Lyme disease may present a clinical picture similar to MS.
Investigators are continuing their search for a definitive test for MS. Until one is developed, misdiagnosis can occur.
(Click Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis for more information on MS and how the condition can be misdiagnosed.)
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