Misdiagnosis of multiple sclerosis: Impact of the 2017 McDonald criteria on clinical practice

Neurology. 2019 Jan 1;92(1):26-33. doi: 10.1212/WNL.0000000000006583. Epub 2018 Oct 31.


Misdiagnosis of multiple sclerosis (MS) (the incorrect assignment of a diagnosis of MS) remains a problem in contemporary clinical practice. Studies indicate that misdiagnosed patients are often exposed to prolonged unnecessary health care risks and morbidity. The recently published 2017 revision of the McDonald criteria for the diagnosis of MS provides an opportunity to consider the effect of these revisions on the problem of MS misdiagnosis. The 2017 McDonald criteria include several new recommendations to reduce potential for misdiagnoses. The criteria should be used for the types of patients in which validation studies were performed, specifically those patients who present with typical demyelinating syndromes. MRI lesion characteristics were defined for which McDonald criteria would be expected to perform with accuracy. However, 2017 revisions, which now include assessment for cortical lesions, and the inclusion of symptomatic lesions and positive oligoclonal bands for the fulfillment of diagnostic criteria, may have the potential to lead to misdiagnosis of MS if not applied appropriately. While the 2017 McDonald criteria integrate issues relating to MS misdiagnosis and incorporate specific recommendations for its prevention more prominently than prior criteria, the interpretation of clinical and radiologic assessments upon which these criteria depend will continue to allow misdiagnoses. In patients with atypical clinical presentations, the revised McDonald criteria may not be readily applied. In those situations, further evaluation or monitoring rather than immediate diagnosis of MS is prudent.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Diagnostic Errors*
  • Humans
  • Magnetic Resonance Imaging
  • Multiple Sclerosis / cerebrospinal fluid
  • Multiple Sclerosis / diagnosis*
  • Neurologic Examination / methods*
  • Neurologic Examination / standards*
  • Oligoclonal Bands / cerebrospinal fluid


  • Oligoclonal Bands