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Nearly 1 in 5 Patients Diagnosed With Multiple Sclerosis May Actually Have Migraine


A recent study found that nearly one in five patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis at two MS-specialized centers had been misdiagnosed.

The study, published in the journal “Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders,” looked at 364 patients who had been evaluated for MS at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles or the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA). Of these 364 patients, 241 were referred for treatment between July 1, 2016, and June 30, 2017.

The study revealed that 17 percent of patients at Cedars-Sinai and 19 percent of patients at UCLA had been misdiagnosed and were incorrectly treated for multiple sclerosis for an average of four years.

After discovering MS was a misdiagnosis, the most common alternative diagnosis patients received was migraine at 16 percent, followed by radiologically isolated syndrome (9 percent), spondylopathy (7 percent) and neuropathy (7 percent).

This research confirms the need for more definitive diagnostic testing for multiple sclerosis. Currently, the diagnostic process involves a physician finding evidence of damage in at least two separate areas of the central nervous system, finding evidence that the damage occurred at different points in time, and ruling out all other possible diagnoses. Although researchers have developed blood tests that can detect signs of MS, there are still no widely available tests that can definitely diagnose the disease.

The results of this study may be unsurprising for many of those who live with chronic illness. Symptoms can often overlap between various conditions, making diagnosis especially difficult when there are no definitive tests. Though doctors generally have good intentions when they investigate your symptoms and offer a diagnosis, it can still be dangerous to diagnose someone with a condition they don’t have. As neurologist R. Allan Purdy said, “Bad diagnosis can lead to the wrong treatment, which may cause a bad outcome.”

Migraine is often misdiagnosed, as one study found that only one in 20 get the correct headache or migraine diagnosis. When we asked those with migraine in our Mighty community to share what conditions they have been misdiagnosed with, the answers ranged from anxiety to medication side effects, epilepsy and stroke. Because there are multiple types of migraine, which can cause a variety of symptoms beyond “just” head pain such as sensory disturbances, weakness, balance issues and loss of sensation, these symptoms may be confused for another condition.

If you are concerned you may have the wrong diagnosis, talk to your doctor or a medical professional. You deserve the proper diagnosis and treatment for your condition.

Getty Image by utah778