New research suggests hundreds of patients are improperly diagnosed with multiple sclerosis each year – with harmful consequences.
The Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center and Oregon Health & Science University conducted a study involving 122 multiple sclerosis specialists. Over 95 percent of the specialists reported they had seen at least one patient in the last year who they “strongly felt” had been misdiagnosed with MS.
During the year, the specialists saw approximately 600 total patients who they believed had been misdiagnosed. Of those, around 280 had been receiving medication to treat a disease from which they did not actually suffer, including disease-modifying drugs.
Although there is currently no cure for MS, patients may use various therapies in an effort to slow progression of the disease, including different types of medication.
Misdiagnoses can have grave medical and financial consequences for patients. According to the Mayo Clinic, medications used to modify the course of MS may result in side effects ranging in severity from flushing and shortness of breath to high blood pressure and liver damage. In addition, patients may be responsible for covering a portion of the $40,000 or more the medications cost each year.
MS is an autoimmune disease that affects the central nervous system. The symptoms may vary, depending on the location and severity of the attack, but they often include muscle problems, such as spasms and numbness.
As there is no specific test to diagnose MS, physicians must rule out other potential diseases with similar symptoms in order to make a diagnosis.
Research suggests that doctors often focus too heavily on MRI results when making a diagnosis. In a 2003 study, researchers found 70 percent of the patients with abnormal MRIs who did not have MS actually had much more common explanations for the test results, such as high blood pressure and migraines.
Shockingly, doctors reported that they did not always tell patients after determining they had been misdiagnosed with MS.
Source: The Oregonian, “Why Hundreds of Patients a Year Are Misdiagnosed with MS,” Joe Rojas-Burke, May 10, 2012.