Diagnostic odyssey of patients with mitochondrial disease: Results of a survey

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To document the complex “diagnostic odyssey” of patients with mitochondrial disease.


We analyzed data from 210 Rare Diseases Clinical Research Network Contact Registry participants who were patients with a biochemical deficiency or self-reported diagnosis of mitochondrial disease, or their caregivers.


Participants saw an average of 8.19 clinicians (SD 8.0, median 5). The first clinician consulted about symptoms was typically a primary care physician (56.7%), although 35.2% of participants initially sought a specialist. Of note, 55.2% of participants received their diagnosis from a neurologist, 18.2% from a clinical geneticist, and 11.8% from a metabolic disease specialist. A majority of the participants (54.6%) received 1 or more nonmitochondrial diagnoses before their final mitochondrial diagnosis. In their pursuit of a diagnosis, 84.8% of participants received blood tests, 71% a muscle biopsy, 60.5% MRI, and 38.6% urine organic acids. In addition, 39.5% of the participants underwent mitochondrial DNA sequencing, 19% sequencing of nuclear gene(s), and 11.4% whole-exome sequencing.


The diagnostic odyssey of patients with mitochondrial disease is complex and burdensome. It features multiple consultations and tests, and, often, conflicting diagnoses. These reflect disease variety, diagnostic uncertainty, and clinician unfamiliarity. The current survey provides an important benchmark. Its replication at appropriate intervals will assist in tracking changes that may accompany increased popularity of exome testing, more rigorous diagnostic criteria, increased patient reported outcome activity, and trials for promising therapies.

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