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The doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will also be done. It often is difficult to diagnose multiple sclerosis (MS) because the symptoms are similar to those of other conditions. There is no definitive test for MS; however, the findings of some tests can contribute to a diagnosis.

Tests may include:

  • MRI scan —This test uses magnetic and radio waves to check for damage to the myelin sheath of the nerves in the brain and spinal cord. A contrast substance may be used to help doctors identify damaged areas. MRI may also be used to track changes in the disease.
  • Evoked responses—This test records the speed of the electrical responses in sensory, visual, or auditory nerves after a repeated sensory stimulus. This test can help identify abnormal areas affected by MS. Visual evoked potential tests are most often used in evaluating MS.
  • Lumbar puncture (spinal tap) —In this procedure, a small amount of fluid from around the spinal cord is removed and checked for white blood cells, antibodies, and proteins. Doctors look for abnormal changes associated with MS.

Other tests may be done to rule out other conditions that may have similar symptoms.

References:

Multiple sclerosis. Access Medicine website. Available at: http://www.accessmedicine.com.ezp-prod1.hul.harvard.edu/quickam.aspx . Accessed March 12, 2010.

Multiple sclerosis. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed/what.php . Updated July 13, 2011. Accessed August 8, 2011.

National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke website. Available at: http://www.ninds.nih.gov/ .

National Multiple Sclerosis Society website. Available at: http://nationalmssociety.org/ .



Last reviewed September 2014 by Rimas Lukas, MD

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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