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How often are patients incorrectly diagnosed with MS?

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a neurological condition where the body's immune system destroys tissue around the nerves. It impacts people very differently.

For some, the condition is progressive, eventually leaving them severely disabled. Others have what is called relapsing-remitting MS (RRMS) where they have bouts of symptoms followed by partial or even complete recovery.

The symptoms that often prompt people with MS to first see their doctor include things like dizziness, loss of balance, vision problems and limb weakness. The problem is that these are also common symptoms of migraines, strokes and a number of other conditions.

In a study published last year, researchers determined that almost 20% of people diagnosed with MS actually didn't have the condition. The most common condition that those who were misdiagnosed were suffering from was migraines.

One doctor who co-led that study said, "The diagnosis of MS is tricky. Both the symptoms and MRI testing results can look like other conditions…." In that study, some patients had been treated for MS for as long as four years before finally getting an accurate diagnosis.

Certainly, it can be a big relief to learn that you're suffering from migraines rather than MS. However, an incorrect diagnosis can mean that you don't get treatment to relieve the symptoms of your actual condition. Further, some MS treatments can cause other conditions like leukoencephalopathy (PML).

The doctor says, "I've seen patients suffering side effects from the medication they were taking for a disease they didn't have. Meanwhile, they weren't getting treatment for what they did have. The cost to the patient is huge -- medically, psychologically, financially." Patients can spend thousands of dollars on unnecessary and potentially harmful treatment.

Diagnoses aren't always a black-and-white matter. An accurate diagnosis can be based on looking at a variety of test results and making a conclusion based on those, as well as on the patient's symptoms.

However, that doesn't mean doctors and other medical professionals -- like radiologists and lab technicians -- can't be held responsible for misdiagnoses that harm patients. If you or a loved one suffered harm due to a misdiagnosis, it's wise to find out what your legal options are.

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