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Your guide to MS misdiagnosis

Woman holding her head in pain - MS misdiagnosis

Receiving a correct diagnosis for multiple sclerosis (MS) is not straightforward.

However, the reasons why are less complicated:

  • No one test can conclusively determine a diagnosis
  • There are different types of MS
  • Not everyone will display all of the common symptoms
  • Symptoms of different conditions are commonly mistaken for MS.

Misdiagnosis of MS can be prevented by your GP  or doctor if a number of important examinations, tests and scans are carried out along with a detailed investigation of your medical history.

The doctor’s aim should be to eliminate the possibility of misdiagnosing diseases whose symptoms closely mimic those of multiple sclerosis. It’s important to be examined by a doctor who is experienced and knowledgeable in correctly diagnosing MS so the appropriate treatment can start as soon as possible.

You may have a genuine case of clinical negligence

If you feel that you or a family member has experienced harm and suffering due to a failure to correctly diagnose and treat a developing condition of multiple sclerosis, then you may have grounds to pursue a claim for medical negligence.

Starting a claim for medical negligence is not always an easy decision. It can often be a complex process to find out the reasons why a GP, doctor or hospital failed to provide the appropriate duty of care expected, so you will need to seek experienced, professional advice.

Our dedicated team of specialist medical negligence solicitors has many years of experience in successfully resolving different types of clinical negligence cases. We can help you find out why things went wrong and, crucially, secure the compensation you deserve to to cover the cost of all necessary care, treatment, special equipment and support, both  now and in the future.

Multiple Sclerosis – the facts

  • More than 100,000 people in the UK suffer from Multiple Sclerosis.                           
  • 5,000 people are newly diagnosed with MS each year.                                               
  • 81% of MS cases are confirmed by diagnosis. (Latest most accurate data - GPRD Review, 2010)

          (Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2015)

  • One in 10 cases of MS are misdiagnosed, which can be avoided if more thorough scans and tests are carried out.                                                              (The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence – NICE, Oct 2014) 

  • More women than men are diagnosed with MS.

  • Multiple sclerosis is not inherited, but family members do have a slightly higher risk of developing MS

  • MS is usually diagnosed in people aged in their 20s and 30s.                           

         (Multiple Sclerosis Trust)

What is Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?                        

Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a condition affecting affects nerves in the brain and the central nervous system.

The protective coating around the nerve fibres, called myelin, which protects the nerve and helps electrical signals travel from the brain to the rest of the body, becomes damaged.

What causes Multiple Sclerosis (MS)?

The damage is caused by the body’s immune system, which normally helps to fight off infections, attacking the protective coating because it mistakenly believes myelin to be a foreign body. The nerve fibres are either partially or completely stripped away to leave scars, known as lesions.

As a result, messages travelling along the nerve fibres can slow down, become distorted, or not get through at all. Where damage has also been caused to the actual nerve fibres, impaired movement can develop into a complete disability over time.

It is still not clearly understood why the body’s immune system mistakenly begins to attack the protective nerve coating but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors.

To date, there is still no cure.

Potential MS symptoms include:

  • Loss of vision - usually in one eye only
  • Muscle stiffness - can lead to uncontrolled muscle movements
  • Balance and co-ordination difficulties
  • Fatigue – feeling very tired during the day

Types of Multiple Sclerosis

Relapsing remitting MS

Around eight in ten people with MS are diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS, which can last from a few days to a few months. The periods of time which follow are known as remission, where symptoms are mild or disappear altogether. 

Secondary progressive MS

Around half of those diagnosed with relapsing remitting MS will go on to develop secondary progressive MS, usually after around 15 years. Symptoms gradually deteriorate over time with relapses, but without a full recovery from the symptoms.

Primary progressive MS 

The least common form of MS, where symptoms gradually get worse over time and there are no periods of remission.

Most common conditions mistaken for Multiple Sclerosis

Lupus - also a disorder of the body’s immune system which causes:

  • muscle pain
  • swelling of joints
  • fatigue
  • migraines

Affects more women than men.

Lupus can first appear without its typical rash and arthritis, which can make symptoms seem even more like MS at the start.

Lyme disease - an infection of the central nervous system caused by a tick bite, also with symptoms of:

  • fatigue
  • headache
  • muscle and joint aches 

Stroke - like MS, affects the brain and with similar symptoms including: 

  • loss of vision
  • difficulty walking
  • loss of feeling in limbs - usually on one side of the body
  • difficulty speaking.

Fibromyalgia - similar symptoms to MS including;

  • headache
  • joint and muscle pain
  • numbness
  • tingling of extremities
  • fatigue. 

Affects women more often than men but, unlike MS, this condition will not show up on a MRI scan.

Other conditions mistaken for Multiple Sclerosis 

There are a number of conditionsthat affect the central nervous system (CNS), which may be misdiagnosed as Multiple Sclerosis, classified as follows:

  • Infections

- Lyme disease

- Syphilis

- PML (affects the brain)


- HTVL-1 (affects nervous system)

  • Inflammatory disorders

          - Sjögren’s syndrome (affects moisture  producing glands) 

          - Vasculitis (affects blood vessels supplying brain and spinal cord)

          - Sarcoidosis (inflammatory cells)

          - Behçet’s disease (damage to blood vessels, particularly veins). 

Genetic disorders

  • Brain tumours
  • Cancers (spreading to the central nervous system)
  • Lymphoma (blood cancer that sometimes occurs in the central nervous system)
  • Vitamin deficiencies
  • Structural damage in the brain or spinal cord​
  • Other non-MS disorders (sharing similar MS features)

Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis

To confirm a diagnosis of MS,  a doctor must rule out other possible diagnoses that could explain the symptoms being experienced by a patient.

Evidence of damage must be found:

  • In at least two separate areas of the central nervous system (CNS), which includes the brain, spinal cord and optic nerves.
  • Damage occurred at least one month apart.

A patient who has experienced only one attack of MS-like symptoms in one part of the central nervous system — referred to as clinically-isolated syndrome (CIS) - may not necessarily go on to develop MS.

Currently, there are no symptoms or laboratory tests that can, by themselves, determine if a patient has MS.

A doctor must, therefore undertake:

  • Detailed medical history
  • Blood test - to determine vitamin deficiency
  • Neurologic exam - assessment of sensory neuron and motor responses, especially reflexes, to determine whether the nervous system is impaired
  • Lumbar puncture - cerebrospinal fluid analysis
  • MRI scan
  • Evoked potentials (EP) – which measures the time it takes for nerves to respond to stimulation.

Treatment of Multiple Sclerosis

There is currently no cure for MS but there are a number of treatments that can help.

Relapsing remitting MS - can be treated with disease-modifying drugs designed to reduce the number of relapses from taking place. While they may also be able to slow the progression of MS, they are not suitable for all cases.

There are also a wide range of treatments, including physiotherapy, aimed to help relieve symptoms and steroids used to speed up recovery from relapses.

Long term assessment

MS sufferers should undergo a thorough review of their care assessment at least once every twelve months, under the NICE guidelines, which also recommend that all suspected cases of MS should be referred to an experienced neurologist. Patients with MS must also be encouraged to keep active and those who struggle with fatigue and mobility issues must be given supervised fitness programmes.

How Your Legal Friend can help you

Because of the complexity of MS, it can be a significant challenge to determine if Multiple Sclerosis was incorrectly misdiagnosed by your GP or doctor and the subsequent impact upon your quality of life.

There can often be an enormous emotional hurdle to overcome before even taking the decision to seek legal advice. You also need to be confident that your clinical negligence specialists possess the in-depth knowledge and experience of both the complex legal and medical issues.

However, from the first time we discuss your case, our experienced medical negligence solicitors will treat you with the highest degree of sympathetic and sensitive understanding and provide you with the expert guidance you need.

We are committed to ensuring we properly investigate what went wrong and why.  If we can prove your case, we will obtain the maximum compensation for you including loss of earnings, rehabilitation costs, therapy, support, care and specialist equipment, so that your current and future medical treatment and care needs are properly met.