After a weekend full of knee boarding and outdoor activities, Laura Nixon noticed a tingling sensation in her lower body. Initially, she dismissed it as a simple injury.
„I actually thought I just had back problems,“ she says.
But the tingling began to spread and worsen, so she made an appointment with her doctor.
After being referred to a neurologist, Nixon’s care team still didn’t know what was causing her pain.
„They did an MRI of my back and couldn’t find anything,“ she says.
Over the next few years, Nixon visited neurosurgeons, orthopedists, neurologists, and chiropractors. However, it became increasingly difficult for her to walk and maintain balance.
At this point, she brought up the possibility of MS. But her doctors believed her symptoms didn’t fit.
„It seemed to be a kind of taboo. No one really wanted to touch that diagnosis,“ she says.
With few options left, Nixon’s neurologist suggested a lumbar puncture. It was in August 2019, at the age of 50, that she was diagnosed with MS.
„It was a relief to know I wasn’t crazy, but it was also devastating to know I had a chronic illness,“ says Nixon.
Most people find out they have MS after an MRI.
It’s rare, but sometimes doctors perform a lumbar puncture to confirm the condition. They did so in Nixon’s case.
The signs of MS can be different for each person.
One common condition is swelling of the optic nerve in your eye, known as optic neuritis. Many people may experience numbness, tingling, or weakness on one side of the body. They may have trouble walking, balancing, or going to the bathroom.
However, doctors cannot confirm MS with these symptoms alone. Many other conditions have similar warning signs.
„A vitamin B12 deficiency can mimic MS,“ says Henson. „Lyme disease, lupus, or Sjögren’s disease – two other autoimmune diseases – can also mimic MS.“ And then there are some very rare, inherited metabolic disorders that can mimic MS as well.“
„It’s important to make sure you have ruled out these conditions.“
Doctors can exclude „mimickers“ through an MRI of your brain and spinal cord, as well as repeated blood tests.
If your doctor finds no other condition and your symptoms meet the McDonald criteria, you will likely receive the MS diagnosis.