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Study Finds Misdiagnosis of Patients With MS Increases Morbidity, Healthcare Costs

Samantha DiGrande
A recent retrospective study found that nearly 18% of patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) before being referred to a medical center for treatment were actually misdiagnosed.
A recent retrospective study found that nearly 18% of patients diagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) before being referred to a medical center for treatment were actually misdiagnosed.

Misdiagnosis can have a significant impact on patient morbidity and healthcare costs. Researchers analyzed the cases of 241 patients who had been diagnosed and then referred to 2 medical centers for treatment over the course of 1 year. The study authors looked to identify how many patients were misdiagnosed and if they shared any common characteristics.

Overall, the authors found that many patients who came to the medical centers with an MS diagnosis did not fulfill the criteria for that determination. On average, patients spent 4 years being treated for MS before receiving a correct diagnosis.

“The diagnosis of MS is tricky. Both the symptoms and [magnetic resonance imaging] testing results can look like other conditions, such as stroke, migraines, and vitamin B12 deficiency. You have to rule out any other diagnoses, and it’s not perfect science,” Marwa Kaisey, MD, a neurologist at Cedars-Sinai, said in a statement.

Among those misdiagnosed, 72% had been prescribed MS treatments. Of these patients, 48% received therapies that carry a known risk of developing progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy. Conversely, the most common correct diagnosis was migraine, followed by radiologically isolated syndrome, spondylopathy, and neuropathy.

“I’ve seen patients suffering side effects from the medication they were taking for a disease they didn’t have,” said Kaisey. “Meanwhile, they weren’t getting treatment for what they did have. The cost to the patient is huge— medically, psychologically, financially.”

In this study alone, the investigators estimated that the unnecessary treatments cost almost $10 million. The authors hope that the results from the study will lead to better availability of treatment for patients who do have the disease.


Kaisey M, Solomon A, Luu M, Giesser B, Sicotte N. Incidence of multiple sclerosis misdiagnosis in referrals to two academic centers [published February 1, 2019]. Mult Scler Relat Disord.

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