MS Differential Diagnosis

Early signs of MS are often mistaken for other disorders, including the following:

  • Cerebrovascular disease (e.g., stroke, transient ischemic attack [TIA])
  • Epilepsy
  • Degenerative disc disease
  • Osteoarthritis
  • Tumor
  • Vitamin B-12 deficiency
  • Weakening of the nerves (neuropathy)

Conditions that may appear similar to MS on MRI scan include the following:

  • Congenital biochemical disorders (e.g., adrenaleukodystrophy, metachromatic leukodystrophy)
  • Inflammation of blood vessels (vasculitis)
  • Lyme disease
  • Lupus (an autoimmune disorder)
  • Progressive multifocal leukencephalopathy (HIV-related disorder)
  • Viral infection (may produce a response that causes demyelination)

Neuromyelitis optica (NMO), also called Devic's syndrome, is a condition that affects the optic nerves and the spinal cord and can cause symptoms similar to MS (e.g., vision loss, muscle weakness, numbness and paralysis in the arms and legs). In the past, NMO was considered a severe form of multiple sclerosis, but research has shown that it is actually a separate condition.

Publication Review By: Jean-Raphael Schneider, M.D.

Published: 31 Dec 1999

Last Modified: 25 Sep 2015