How Common is Multiple Sclerosis Misdiagnosis?

May 30th is World Multiple Sclerosis Day. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a relatively common disease that affects the central nervous system, harming nerves and neurons and slowly degrading the patient’s ability to control parts of their body. Severe cases of MS may cause patients to lose the ability to walk or control their hands.

World Multiple Sclerosis Day is intended to help raise awareness of this debilitating illness. There’s relatively little known about MS, but study is progressing every day. While there’s no known cure, early diagnosis can give patients the opportunity to treat the disease and prevent it from progressing.

That’s why the misdiagnosis of MS is such a significant problem for the multiple sclerosis community. In recognition of World Multiple Sclerosis Day, here’s what you need to know about the current state of MS diagnoses in the US, the risks of misdiagnosis, and how you can fight back if you think you’ve had MS misdiagnosed.

The State of Multiple Sclerosis Diagnoses in the US

MS is not an easy diagnosis to make. In some ways, multiple sclerosis is a “leftover” condition. The primary way medical professionals diagnose someone is by ruling out many other issues, a process known as differential diagnosis. Patients who are left over after the testing process because they don’t fit any other disease criteria are finally able to receive the MS diagnosis.

Doctors often decide to test someone for MS based on their reported symptoms. Potential signs of MS include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Tremors or loss of coordination
  • Numbness or weakness in limbs
  • Slurred speech
  • Fatigue
  • Confusion
  • Dizziness
  • Tingling and pain in extremities

To determine whether someone has MS, doctors will recommend tests such as:

  • Blood tests to rule out Lyme disease and vascular illnesses
  • Spinal taps to rule out infections and autoimmune conditions, as well as to check for irregularities associated with MS
  • Evoked potential tests to see how quickly your nerves and neurons can communicate with each other
  • MRIs to look for signs of vascular diseases as well as lesions that are commonly associated with MS

The complicated nature of diagnosing multiple sclerosis means that it is commonly misdiagnosed as several other conditions. Many people who eventually discover they have MS are first diagnosed with other conditions, such as:

  • Viral or bacterial infections: Lyme disease, neurosyphilis, and HTLV1 are all infections that can mimic MS, though they can be easily spotted with appropriate tests.
  • Vascular diseases: Conditions like strokes, angina, fibromyalgia, and even B12 deficiencies can look like MS if the correct tests aren’t done.
  • Autoimmune conditions: Some autoimmune diseases can affect the central nervous system. Encephalomyelitis, lupus, Agren’s syndrome, sarcoidosis, and Myasthenia Gravis can all cause inflammation that leads to similar symptoms to MS.

Risks of Misdiagnosing MS

Doctors who do their due diligence and correctly perform all the proper tests are at low risk of misdiagnosing MS. However, medical teams who rush the process or ignore evidence to make a patient’s symptoms fit their preconceptions can do serious harm by misdiagnosing it as another condition.

There are two significant risks involved in a potential MS misdiagnosis: the failure to treat the condition early enough to slow its progression and the risk of unnecessary, damaging, and costly alternate treatments.

MS is a degenerative disease. As the condition progresses, more neurons and nerves degrade. Over time, this makes it progressively more challenging for patients to live their daily lives. Symptoms like pain, confusion, and loss of muscle control will worsen, lowering the patients’ quality of life.

Early diagnoses can help patients slow down this progression. Depending on the patient’s type of MS, approved treatments may help them slow or even stop the worsening of symptoms and maintain a higher quality of life for longer. However, a misdiagnosis can significantly delay the time it takes for a patient to access these official treatments and permanently reduce their abilities.

The other risk is that a patient might undergo treatments for a condition they don’t have. Certain medications and treatments are excellent for vascular diseases or infections. However, every treatment methodology can have side effects. Misdiagnosed patients may wind up spending money and time on treatments that not only don’t work but are actively harming them with unnecessary side effects.

Fighting Back Against Misdiagnosed Multiple Sclerosis

If you believe you have MS and have been incorrectly diagnosed with something else, you need to advocate for yourself. You can fight back against incorrect diagnoses with tactics like:

  • Ask for an explanation. If you’re not sure why you’ve been diagnosed with something other than MS, ask the doctor why they don’t think you have it. If they can’t give you an answer, or if the answer doesn’t make sense, they may not be doing their job correctly. 
  • Ask for additional tests. If your doctor hasn’t performed all the tests listed by the Mayo Clinic for an MS diagnosis, or if some of the tests are inconclusive, ask that the rest be completed. If your medical team refuses, ask that they document their refusal to test in your medical records. This will act as evidence in your favor if you need to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.
  • Find a different doctor. If nothing else works with your current medical team, get a new one. A fresh start with a new physician can help you escape any negligent practices of your previous provider.

Holding Doctors Accountable for Incorrect Diagnoses

Once you have a correct diagnosis, you can start moving on from your medical ordeal. An essential part of moving on is holding your negligent medical care team accountable for misdiagnosing you. Through a medical malpractice lawsuit, you can sue for damages such as medical costs, lost wages, and pain and suffering caused by how your disease advanced while you were misdiagnosed.

You can learn more about lawsuits for misdiagnoses by scheduling your consultation with a trained medical malpractice lawyer. Get in touch to discuss your case and start the process of holding bad doctors responsible for their actions today.

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