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Why migraines are mistaken for multiple sclerosis

On Behalf of | Mar 6, 2019 | Medical Malpractice

People who have multiple sclerosis (MS) often are accurately diagnosed only after months and even years of misdiagnoses. Despite some blood tests that can help detect the condition, there’s no one definitive test for MS. Physicians typically look for signs of damage to a minimum of two parts of a person’s central nervous system that occurred at different times.

The symptoms of MS can vary from person to person. Therefore, it’s often misdiagnosed as everything from a stroke to Lyme disease to lupus.

Some cases of MS are first misdiagnosed as migraines. Migraine headaches, which often involve intense pain, nausea and sensitivity to sounds, light and smells, can be a symptom of MS. According to a recent study, almost 20 percent of patients wrongly diagnosed with MS at two medical facilities that specialize in MS were, in fact, suffering from migraines.

The study looked at over 360 patients who had been referred to the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and Cedars-Sinai Medical Center (also in LA) in 2016 and 2017. Of these, 19 percent at UCLA and 17 percent at Cedars-Sinai received treatment for MS for four years, on average before it was determined they didn’t have it.

Migraines are even more commonly misdiagnosed than MS. In part, that’s because the symptoms — like those of MS — vary greatly. Besides the throbbing pain, they can cause balance issues, weakness and loss of sensation. Migraine sufferers have reported being diagnosed with everything from anxiety to epilepsy to a stroke.

No one is comparing MS, which can cause considerable loss of mobility, with migraines. However, they’re examples of two chronic conditions that often go undiagnosed or misdiagnosed for long periods — causing patients to continue in pain as they undergo unnecessary treatments. Delays in proper diagnosis can also hamper the effective treatment of a condition once it’s properly identified.

Physicians and other medical professionals who misdiagnose conditions aren’t necessarily guilty of malpractice. However, if you believe that your misdiagnosis or that of a loved one did result from malpractice, it may be wise to consult with an experienced Washington malpractice attorney.