Text Size: a  |   a 

The Process of Diagnosing MS

December 1, 2016

One of the reasons you will see many patients misdiagnosed with MS or even worse, patients with it that haven’t been diagnosed, is because of how complicated it is to actually pinpoint a diagnosis. There is no single test that can positively say that a person has MS.

A diagnosis cannot be made after just 1 MS-like “attack” and sometimes attacks are so inconspicuous that the person does not even notice. However, there are a variety of tests that neurologists will use to put pieces of the puzzle together one by one.

Basic Neurological Examination: The neurologist will perform a normal patient check-up, looking for any abnormality or change in vision, eye-movement, joint strength, balance, motor skill, speech or reflex. Anything out of the ordinary here may show the neurologist the type of nerve damage that indicates MS.

MRI: Many patients will already be familiar with an MRI and have probably already undergone one for other reasons. It is a painless scan that uses magnetic fields and radio waves to display detailed images of the inside of the body. It can show whether there's any damage or scarring of the myelin sheath (the layer surrounding your nerves) in your brain and spinal cord. Finding this can help confirm a diagnosis in most people with MS.

Evoked Potential Test: There are many types of evoked potential tests that clinicians will perform. The most common type is a painless exam that assesses how well the eyes work. Light patterns are shown to the eyes while the brainwaves are monitored using small, sticky patches called electrodes placed on the head.

Lumbar Puncture: A lumbar puncture is a procedure to remove a sample of your spinal fluid by inserting a needle into the lower back. Spinal fluid is the fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord, and changes in the fluid can suggest problems with the nervous system. This is a very safe process but the patient will generally feel exhausted and have a headache for a day or two following the fluid removal.

Blood Test: These blood tests will not indicate any type of MS, but they are done in order to rule out another condition that consists of similar symptoms.