Multiple sclerosis can have potentially debilitating effects on one’s life. The disease affects almost 1 million people in the United States, but what if someone told you that 20% of those people don’t really have multiple sclerosis?

A study published in the Multiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders journal found that 1 in 5 people were misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Misdiagnosis can have serious consequences, and there are several things to consider if you think you are affected.

How do I know if I have the wrong diagnosis?

Patients in the study lived with their misdiagnosis for an average of 4 years. If you’ve been on the same treatment for years, and you aren’t getting better, it could be a sign of misdiagnosis.

Getting a second opinion from a multiple sclerosis specialist may be a good idea if you believe you have the wrong diagnosis.

Why is misdiagnosis of MS so high?

According to the study, diagnosing multiple sclerosis can be difficult because the criteria is not always definitive. Symptoms in patients can vary greatly, and doctors may not always evaluate and apply criteria the same way.

Additionally, when it comes to MRIs, multiple sclerosis shares the same visual signals as other conditions such as radiologically isolated syndrome (a neurological condition which causes lesions in the brain or spine), making misdiagnosis more common.

What are the consequences of misdiagnosis?

Misdiagnosis affects patients medically and financially. About 72% of misdiagnosed patients in the study received treatments they didn’t need. Nearly 50% of those patients were on a treatment with high risk for a life-threatening brain disease.

Furthermore, the team of researchers estimated that unnecessary treatments in the study cost almost $10 million.

Next steps

Misdiagnosis is medical malpractice. It has lasting impact with potentially deadly consequences. If you believe you or a loved one is misdiagnosed, you may benefit from speaking with an attorney about your options.