Factors associated with the misdiagnosis of neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder

Alexander D. Smith, Tatum M. Moog, Katy W. Burgess, Morgan McCreary, Darin T. Okuda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Background: Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder (NMOSD) is a rare autoimmune condition that is associated with severe disability. Approximately 40% of individuals are misdiagnosed with multiple sclerosis (MS) or other diseases. We aimed to define factors that influence the misdiagnosis of people with NMOSD and provide strategies for reducing error rates. Methods: A retrospective study was performed involving all people with a confirmed diagnosis of NMOSD within a single academic institution. Comprehensive clinical timelines were constructed for each individual that included presenting symptoms, provider type and timing of evaluations, aquaporin 4-IgG (AQP4) results, and MRI scans. Two-sample comparisons of continuous and categorial variables were performed for people accurately diagnosed with NMOSD and those originally misdiagnosed with another medical condition. A subanalysis of only AQP4-IgG positive people was also performed. Results: The study cohort included 199 people fulfilling International Panel criteria for NMOSD with 71 people (62 female; mean age at first symptom presentation (standard deviation (SD)) = 32.8 years (y) (SD 16.1)) being initially misdiagnosed and 128 people (106 female; 41.14y (SD 15.41)) who were accurately diagnosed. Of the 199 people with NMOSD, 166 had a positive serostatus. Identified factors associated with misdiagnosis, regardless of AQP4-IgG serostatus, were the presence of protracted nausea/vomiting/hiccups without any accompanying neurological symptoms, 23 (32.4%) versus 16 (12.5%) (p = 0.001), a longer median (range) time to see a neuroimmunology specialist 4.2y (0.14–31.8) versus 0.5y (0.0–21.2) (p<0.0001), and a delay in acquiring an MRI study, 4.7y (0.0–27.3) versus 0.3y (0.0–20.2) (p<0.0001). A greater proportion of people misdiagnosed were identified with a negative live-cell based AQP4-IgG serum test result, 13/13 (100%) versus 22/114 (19.3%) (p<0.0001). Additionally, the mean (SD) time between a first negative and successive live-cell based AQP4-IgG positive test result was greater for people misdiagnosed with another condition, 3.9y (SD 5.0) versus 1.5y (SD 2.1) (p = 0.01). Although not significant between groups, a rash was also reported in 63/199 people with NMOSD, with 31/63 having an anti-nuclear antibody titer ≥ 1:160. Conclusion: Defined factors can help guide both generalists and specialists in the pursuit of strategies aimed at efficiently diagnosing those with NMOSD such that effective care can be delivered.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number104498
JournalMultiple Sclerosis and Related Disorders
StatePublished - Feb 2023


  • Aquaporin 4-IgG
  • Factors
  • Misdiagnosis
  • Neuroimmunologist
  • Neuromyelitis optica spectrum disorder

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Neurology
  • Clinical Neurology


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