MS: four in five multiple sclerosis sufferers in UK are misdiagnosed

MS: four in five multiple sclerosis sufferers in UK are misdiagnosed

Four in five people with multiple sclerosis in the UK are misdiagnosed, with more than a quarter told incorrectly that they have a trapped nerve, a survey suggests. The poll found that 39% of people with MS waited more than a year for a correct diagnosis, prompting the MS Society to warn that too many people are suffering needlessly as a result of the delays.

The 81% of people who said they were misdiagnosed by their GP would equate to 4,000 MS sufferers a year not having their condition correctly identified if mirrored in the general population. More than 100,000 people are living with MS in the UK, making it the most common disabling neurological condition in young adults, but the MS Society says awareness remains low.

The charity’s chief executive, Michelle Mitchell, said: “Being misdiagnosed or experiencing symptoms that can’t be explained can put a considerable strain on people’s emotions and health. A fast, accurate diagnosis enables people to take steps to begin to manage their condition, access treatment and take greater control of their lives again.”

Just over 1,500 people took part in the survey. One in four said they visited their GP over four times before they were referred to a neurologist for further examination. Other misdiagnoses included depression, anxiety or stress (14%) and stroke (11%).

Many people with MS can appear to be fine on the outside while struggling with hidden symptoms such as numbness, tingling, problems with mobility and balance, vision and dizziness, fatigue, bladder problems, muscle stiffness or pain.

Acknowledging that the disease can be difficult to diagnose, the MS Society said that it is important for GPs to recognise the warning signs. It warns that delays can be harmful by preventing people from taking the necessary steps to manage their condition effectively and said there is evidence that early treatment has long-term benefits.

Prof Alan Thompson, consultant neurologist at the National Hospital for Neurology and Neurosurgery and director of the UCL Institute of Neurology, said: “We’ve moved on so much in terms of the treatments that are available to slow the long-term damage that relapsing forms of MS cause, so a prompt and accurate diagnosis of MS can make an enormous difference. It is only once someone is diagnosed that they can begin to understand and manage their condition.”

The survey results suggest a failure to correctly diagnose can be compounded in many cases by people Googling their symptoms. Two in five respondents said they searched the web for information while in limbo, with one saying: “I scared myself to death.”

Prof 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 one million patient consultations every day 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.

“The RCGP has developed resources to support GPs and their teams – including an e-learning module in collaboration with the MS Society – to identify, diagnose and treat patients with MS as effectively as possible.”

By Haroon Siddique,

The Guardian Wednesday 27 May 2015

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