Why It’s Hard to Diagnose CIDP

Medically Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on November 20, 2020

Chronic inflammatory demyelinating polyneuropathy (CIDP) is a challenge to diagnose even for the most experienced doctors. A major reason: It’s a rare disorder, so not many have seen it.

But many other things make diagnosing this nerve disease tricky. 

Several other conditions have similar symptoms, including:

  • Guillain-Barre syndrome
  • Lewis-Sumner syndrome
  • Multifocal motor neuropathy
  • Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease
  • Multiple sclerosis 

Some toxins, medications, and alcohol can affect nerves and complicate diagnosis.

CIDP usually gets worse slowly, but it doesn’t always follow a pattern to make it easily recognizable.

A CIDP diagnosis isn’t based on one test, but on several. Uncertainties or mistakes in any of one them can result in the wrong diagnosis. You may need to see a neurologist who specializes in peripheral nerve disorders like CIDP and Guillain-Barre Syndrome (GBS).

CIDP and Not Something Else?

To diagnose CIDP, doctors rule out other causes of your symptoms. It’s often a process of elimination, nerve conduction tests, MRI and nerve biopsy to list of tests you may get. But there are differences.

Guillain-Barre syndrome comes on and goes away quickly. People with it may recover within 3 months. CIDP gets worse more slowly and often lingers for several months or even years.

Both multiple sclerosis and CIDP involve damage to the sheath that surrounds nerves, called myelin. But multiple sclerosis is a disease affecting the central nervous system, which includes the brain and spinal cord. CIDP doesn’t affect these areas of the body.

People with multifocal motor neuropathy (MMN) or Lewis-Summer syndrome usually have weakness on one side of the body. In CIDP, the symptoms are on both sides. The symptoms of MMN don’t usually include loss of sensation, as CIDP does.

Even if a doctor isn’t certain you have CIDP, they may decide to treat you for it. Left untreated, 30% of people diagnosed with CIDP will need a wheelchair to get around. Early recognition of the condition and prompt, thorough treatment will aid in your recovery.

Show Sources


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National Organization for Rare Disorders: "Chronic Inflammatory Demyelinating Polyneuropathy."

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Gorson, K. Neurology, July 2015.

John Hopkins Medicine Health Library: "Nerve Conduction Studies," "Guillain-Barre and CIDP."

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Reeves, A. and Swenson, R. Disorders of the Nervous System: A Primer, Dartmouth Medical School, 2008.

GBS/CIDP Foundation International: "All About CIDP."

Verschueren, A. Muscle & Nerve, January 2005.

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