A new report from MS Australia has shown the prolonged time to diagnose multiple sclerosis highlights the need for enhanced awareness of the disease. The average time from onset of symptoms to an MS diagnosis extends nearly four years, according to the ‘My Diagnosis’ report.

To improve MS diagnosis time, the report detailed three key areas to be addressed: improved funding for research to help identify methods for earlier detection and intervention; better education and awareness among healthcare professionals, and better community understanding of early symptoms.

MS Australia head of research Dr Julia Morahan said delays in receiving an MS diagnosis is critical lost time for people living with the condition, which can result in irreversible damage and profound mental distress.

“In MS, time is brain. We know that the longer it takes to get a diagnosis of MS, the greater the risk of damage occurring and disability accumulating, which can ultimately diminish a person’s quality of life,” she said. “Being able to accurately diagnose and halt MS at an earlier stage has enormous potential to significantly reduce the burden of the disease on people’s quality of life and the economy.”

More than 33,000 Australians are living with MS, now the most common acquired chronic neurological disease affecting young adults, and those diagnosed with MS is increasing.  Symptoms can include severe pain, walking difficulties, debilitating fatigue, partial blindness and cognitive issues.

Laura Birchall said the experience of her first MS symptoms and the impact of waiting for a diagnosis, “had an enormous impact on me emotionally, my ability to focus and my ability to work”.  

She had MS symptoms for years that she dismissed at the time because she believed these could be explained by something else and encourages others in a similar situation to have a conversation with their doctor.

“If something feels a little bit off, even if it’s not stopping you from doing your day-to-day activities, or if something doesn’t feel right, talk to people in your life about it, and listen to them when they tell you to go to the doctor,” Birchall said.