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5 Conditions Commonly Mistaken for MS

October 30, 2017

Getting a correct diagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) can be a challenge.

No single test can determine a diagnosis conclusively, and not everyone has all of the common symptoms of MS, such as numbness, tingling, pain, fatigue, and heat sensitivity. And to complicate matters, the symptoms you do have may resemble those of some other condition. Here are 5 conditions commonly mistaken for MS:

Lyme disease is a bacterial infection transmitted through a tick bite. Early symptoms include fatigue, fever, headaches, and muscle and joint aches. Later symptoms can include numbness and tingling in the hands and feet, as well as cognitive problems such as short-term memory loss and speech issues. If you live in an area that’s known to have Lyme disease or have recently traveled to one, your doctor will want to rule out the possibility, Dr. Burks says.

Conversion and psychogenic disorders are conditions in which psychological stress is converted into a physical problem — such as blindness or paralysis — for which no medical cause can be found. In the Neurology study on MS misdiagnosis, 11 percent of subjects definitely or probably misdiagnosed with MS actually had a conversion or psychogenic disorder.

Lupus is a chronic, autoimmune disorder that, like MS, affects more women than men. It can cause muscle pain, joint swelling, fatigue, and headaches. The hallmark symptom of lupus is a butterfly-shaped rash covering the cheeks and bridge of the nose, but only about half of people with lupus develop this rash. There is no single diagnostic test for lupus, and because its symptoms are similar to those of many other conditions, it is sometimes called “the great imitator.”

Rheumatologists (physicians specializing in diseases of the muscles and joints) typically diagnose lupus based on a number of laboratory tests and the number of symptoms characteristic of lupus that a person has.

Sarcoidosis is another inflammatory autoimmune disease that shares some symptoms with MS, including fatigue and decreased vision. But sarcoidosis most commonly affects the lungs, lymph nodes, and skin, causing a cough or wheezing, swollen lymph nodes, and lumps, sores, or areas of discoloration on the skin.

Fibromyalgia and MS have some similar symptoms, including headaches, joint and muscle pain, numbness and tingling of extremities, memory problems, and fatigue. Like MS, fibromyalgia is more common in women than in men. But unlike MS, fibromyalgia does not show up as brain lesions on an MRI.

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