Diseases that Mimic Multiple Sclerosis

Although multiple sclerosis is known the world over as an autoimmune disease, there are several diseases that mimic multiple sclerosis that are not known to the general public. As there is no single diagnostic test to determine if someone is afflicted with MS, the possibility of misdiagnoses is not uncommon. Many times, physicians use on the process of elimination to pinpoint whether or not multiple sclerosis is indeed the actual diagnosis. This is crucial, as earlier diagnosis means better treatment. Also, diseases may look like MS but not be the same and require completely different treatment regimens, which can be harmful to the body.

Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis (ADEM) is a neurological disease which result sin inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Possible symptoms include but are not limited to: seizure, stiff neck, headache or migraines, optic neuritis, weight loss, lethargy, and sometimes paralysis of a limb or a side of the body. The way that Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis differs from MS is that it is brought on by an immunization or viral infection. ADEM lasts for one episode, also known as a monophasic course.

Lupus is another of the diseases that mimic multiple sclerosis that most people know about. Sometimes, although uncommon, MS and lupus are diagnosed together, and lupus is at times referred to as the great imitator. An antinuclear test (ANA) can help to verify if lupus is present in the body. This test is not entirely accurate, however, as MS sufferers can also test positive through this test, as well as many other diseases. Physicians sometimes utilize a urinalysis or even a kidney biopsy to check for signs of kidney problems. In addition, an MRI, echocardiography, x-ray, CT scan or other diagnostic tests are also used. Another indicator of MS are lesions on the spinal cord, or in women, first trimester miscarriages, which are common in women with lupus. If women test positive for lupus in this manner, then MS is ruled out.

Sjögren’s Syndrome is another chronic, systemic disease in which white blood cells attack the glands that produce moisture in the body. Sjögren’s Syndrome  affects the entire body and symptoms include dry mouth and eyes, difficulty speaking or swallowing, joint pain, fatigue, and numbness. The disease can accelerate, reach a plateau, or it can go into remission, with some sufferers experiencing mild symptoms while others experience more significant problems. For patients unsure of which disease they are suffering from, a nerve conduction velocity (NCV) test can help distinguish between the two, because nerve damage in MS is centralized, while Sjögren’s is peripheral. Even this test is not hard and fast, however, as Sjögren’s can also affect the central nervous system, causing spinal cord damage and cognitive impairment. Interestingly, many researchers are of the belief that MS and Sjögren’s syndrome are somehow interlinked, but this theory remains unproven.

Myasthenia Gravis (MG), another chronic, autoimmune disease, causes weakness when the nerve impulse responsible for initiating movement fails to reach the muscle cells. People that have Myasthenia Gravis are at an increased risk of suffering from other autoimmune diseases. Symptoms of MG include but are not limited to facial weakness, impaired eye coordination, weakness of the limbs, neck, shoulders and hips, and droopy eyelids. MG can affect people of all age brackets, from toddlers to senior citizens, although the most affected groups are typically young women and older men. The fatigue that sufferers of Myasthenia Gravis isn’t generalized, rather, it localized in overworked muscles. The most specific test for MG is a blood test for serum antibodies to acetylcholine receptors. The overwhelming majority of patients with MG will have elevated serum levels of these antibodies. 

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