MONDAY, June 28, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- Early symptoms of multiple sclerosis may commonly be missed for years before the right diagnosis is made, a new study suggests.
Researchers found that patients with MS had a higher-than-average number of medical appointments, with doctors of various specialties, for up to five years before their diagnosis.
And for the most part, those visits were for neurological symptoms consistent with MS -- pointing to missed opportunities for an earlier diagnosis, the researchers say.
"We found that many complaints that led to patient visits were compatible with first clinical relapses that were not recognized as such," said senior researcher Dr. Bernhard Hemmer, a neurologist and professor at the Technical University of Munich in Germany.
"Relapse" refers to the symptom flare-ups that mark MS -- a neurological disease caused by a misguided immune system attack on the body's own nerve tissue.
Most often, MS follows a relapsing-remitting course, where symptoms flare for a time and then ease, according to the National MS Society. Because the central nervous system is affected, those symptoms can be wide-ranging. Among the most common are vision problems, muscle weakness, numbness and difficulty with balance and coordination.
In recent years, there has been debate among specialists over whether MS has a "prodromal" phase -- a period where people have various non-specific symptoms before the typical characteristics of MS begin.
Hemmer said the new findings suggest something else: At least in the five years before their diagnosis, patients are usually seeing doctors for actual MS symptoms.
For the study -- recently published in the journal Neurology -- Hemmer's team examined insurance records from nearly 198,000 German adults, including 10,262 newly diagnosed with MS. The researchers looked at their medical visits and diagnoses for up to five years prior to their MS diagnosis, and compared them against the rest of the study group.
That comparison group included people with certain other