Study: Common Disorders Frequently Misdiagnosed as MS

Migraine headaches and fibromyalgia are among the common disorders that are frequently misdiagnosed as multiple sclerosis (MS), according to a new research study.

Researchers at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, Mayo Clinic, Washington University and Oregon Health & Science University conducted the study, which also investigated why so many patients with other conditions are told they have MS.

In a University of Vermont news announcement, lead author Andrew Solomon, M.D., assistant professor of neurological sciences, said, “Although many rare disorders are known to mimic MS, it appears that presently, a number of common disorders are frequently mistaken for MS.”

The five conditions most commonly misdiagnosed as MS, the study said, were migraines, fibromyalgia, psychological conditions, neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder, and abnormal MRIs with unexplained symptoms.

In all, the 24 MS specialists who participated in the study discovered 110 patients who’d been misdiagnosed. The study reported that 72 percent of patients who were misdiagnosed had taken medications to treat MS, in some cases for years. Several wrongly diagnosed patients had also participated in MS clinical trials.

Solomon, who is division chief of MS at the University of Vermont College of Medicine, pointed out misdiagnosed patients who underwent MS treatments were unnecessarily exposed to significant side effects. They also missed out on treatments for the medical conditions they actually had.

The news announcement pointed out that diagnosing MS can be difficult because “there is no specific biomarker or blood test for the disease, which likely stems from a variety of combinations of genes and environmental triggers. In addition, the related nerve damage can cause a wide range of symptoms, many of which are often also associated with different ailments.”

The MS specialists in the study discovered that clinicians working with the misdiagnosed patients might have misinterpreted MS diagnostic criteria.

“MS can be challenging to diagnose correctly,” Solomon said. “Our study suggests that the misinterpretation and misapplication of MS diagnostic criteria are important contemporary contributors to misdiagnosis.”

About the Author

Laurie Watanabe is the editor of Mobility Management. She can be reached at

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