Diagnosing multiple sclerosis

There is no one test to show if a patient has MS. Diagnosing it  demands many different tests, since several conditions may have symptoms similar to those of MS.


Being diagnosed with MS is a process of ruling out other possible reasons for your symptoms. A wide range of tests are performed to narrow down the possibilities  and often include both blood samples, MRi, neurological tests and hand-eye coordination tests. By narrowing down the possible reasons, you also get a very specific and individualized result that can help establish the most suitable treatment for you, should you have MS.

Testing for MS

The tests usually performed are:

- Neurological examination: Testing if your nerve pathways have been damaged. E.g. if there are visible changes or weaknesses in eye movements, leg or hand co-ordination, balance, speech and reflexes.

- Blood tests: Can establish whether there are other reasons for the symptoms, e.g. vitamin deficiencies.

- MRI scan (Magnetic Resonance Imaging): The MRI gives an accurate picture of your brain and spinal cord, which are usually affected by MS. It can show potential plaque from the MS and 9 out of 10 patients are diagnosed by help of the MRI scan.

- Evoked potentials test (EP): Consists of three different tests which measure the time it takes for nerves to respond to stimulation. Not all three might necessarily be performed.

1.Visual Evoked Potentials (VEP): Patient is watching a screen with an alternating checker-board pattern.

This is used to identify problems with the optic nerve, since vision problems are often an early indicator of MS.

2. Brainstem Auditory Evoked Potentials (BAEP): Testing the response in hearing.

3. Sensory Evoked Potentials (SEP): Testing nerves in arms and legs by sending short electrical impulses.

- Lumbar puncture, also called spinal tap: A sample of your cerebrospinal fluid is collected and can show if the immune system is in fact fighting an actual disease in the central nervous system. This test is usually only performed if all the above tests are inconclusive.

After diagnosing MS, it might still not be possible to determine which type of MS the patient might have. Determining the type could take longer, since it might be necessary to follow the progression of symptoms before a precise diagnosis can be made.

Last updated: 15/01/2018

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