Challenges in multiple sclerosis diagnosis: Misunderstanding and misapplication of the McDonald criteria

Andrew J. Solomon, Roman Pettigrew, Robert T. Naismith, Salim Chahin, Stephen Krieger, Brian Weinshenker

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


Objective: To assess comprehension and application of the McDonald criteria. Background: Studies suggest that knowledge gaps for specific core elements of the McDonald criteria may contribute to multiple sclerosis (MS) misdiagnosis. Methods: Neurology residents (NR) and multiple sclerosis specialists (MSS) in North America completed a web-based survey. Results: A total of 160 participants were included: 72 NR and 88 MSS. Syndromes incorrectly identified as typical of MS included: complete transverse myelopathy (35% NR and 15% MSS), intractable vomiting/nausea/hiccoughs (20% NR and 5% MSS), and bilateral optic neuritis/unilateral optic neuritis with poor visual recovery (17% NR and 10% MSS). Periventricular magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) lesions were correctly identified by 39% NR and 52% MSS, and juxtacortical lesions were correctly identified by 28% NR and 53% MSS. The correct definition of “periventricular” was chosen by 38% NR and 61% MSS, and that of “juxtacortical” was chosen by 19% NR and 54% MSS. Regions incorrectly identified for MRI dissemination in space fulfillment included the optic nerve (31% NR and 26% MSS) and the subcortical white matter (11% NR and 18% MSS). The majority of participants assessed previous non-specific neurological symptoms without objective evidence of a central nervous system (CNS) lesion as sufficient for clinical dissemination in time. Conclusion: The McDonald criteria are often misunderstood and misapplied. Concerted educational efforts may prevent MS misdiagnosis.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)250-258
Number of pages9
JournalMultiple Sclerosis Journal
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 2021


  • McDonald criteria
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • all education
  • diagnosis
  • misdiagnosis

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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