This site is intended for health professionals only

Majority of MS sufferers are misdiagnosed, research suggests

27 May 2015

Share this article

The majority of people (81%) with multiple sclerosis (MS) were found to be misdiagnosed in a survey by the MS Society released today.

The survey of more 1,500 people with MS in the UK found that 81% had been misdiagnosed by their GP; more than a quarter were told they had a trapped nerve (28%) and about 1 in 10 people were misdiagnosed with depression, anxiety or stress (14%) or told they’d suffered a stroke (11%).

Many of the symptoms are invisible and while people might appear to be fine on the outside, they’re often struggling with a number of hidden symptoms including numbness, tingling, problems with mobility and balance, vision and dizziness, fatigue, bladder problems, muscle stiffness or pain.

Professor Alan Thompson, consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and Director of the UCL Institute of Neurology, said:“I’ve seen a lot of people in my clinic who have never heard of MS so it doesn’t surprise me that one in three people in the survey say they didn’t know what it was before diagnosis.”

He said that as early symptoms of MS can fluctuate and be attributed to a number of other things, awareness of the condition is particularly important.

Responding to the research, Professor Maureen Baker, Chair of the Royal College of GPs, said: “MS is incredibly difficult to diagnose in primary care as many of the symptoms are similar to those of other, more common conditions – and some less obvious symptoms may not be disclosed by patients during consultation.
“It is also a relatively rare condition – 5,000 new cases are diagnosed every year, but to put this into context, GPs make over 1m patient consultations everyday across the UK. Furthermore, the constraints of the standard 10-minute consultation make identification of such a complex and uncommon condition problematic at initial presentation,” she said.