According to the National Multiple Sclerosis (MS) Society, there is no single test available which can diagnose MS on its own. Instead, healthcare providers must use a variety of approaches to confirm that a patient has the condition. These may include lab tests, neurologic exams, and the patient’s medical history. Here is how multiple sclerosis diagnosed.

Doctors must also rule out other conditions which bear similar symptoms. For instance, infections such as Lyme disease, inflammatory disorders such as vasculitis, genetic conditions, and vitamin deficiencies can all cause neurological symptoms. Various tests, including MRI, blood tests, and a spinal fluid analysis are used to rule out these conditions and confirm the presence of MS. 

As doctors work to rule out other conditions, the diagnosis process can take considerable time. Some patients may receive a definitive MS diagnosis relatively quickly, however. An accurate and timely diagnosis is critical, since uncovering the root cause for worrisome and uncomfortable symptoms can allow you to focus on treatment and alleviate any concerns over other potential causes. Moreover, starting treatment early can help to control the progression of Multiple Sclerosis, as neurologic damage can begin early on. 

What Criteria Must Be Present for an MS Diagnosis?

For a confirmed MS diagnosis, there must be:

  • Evidence of damage in at least two areas of the central nervous system (CNS), such as the spinal cord, brain, or optic nerve
  • Evidence that the damage found occurred at different times

In addition, all other potential diagnoses must be ruled out. 

What Methods Are Used to Diagnose MS? 

The McDonald Criteria call for specific guidelines for diagnosing MS using MRI and cerebrospinal fluid. An MRI may be able to uncover a second area of damage in an individual who has experienced only one MS attack. In some cases, cerebrospinal fluid analysis can also indicate two separate instances of damage. 

In addition to these measures, doctors will also ask you to describe any symptoms you’ve experienced, and may also gather information about your medical and family history, preexisting conditions, and places of travel which could indicate other illnesses or MS. They’ll also perform a comprehensive neurologic evaluation, which will encompass an analysis of the cranial nerves through swallowing and facial sensation, among other measures. Reflexes, coordination, sensation, gait, and balance will also be looked at. 

Oftentimes, medical history and neurologic exams are sufficient for getting Multiple Sclerosis diagnosed. Additional testing can confirm the diagnosis or uncover other potential causes for symptoms.

While there is no blood test that concludes the presence of MS, a blood draw can be used to rule out other conditions with similar symptoms. For instance, vitamin deficiencies, certain infections, and conditions such as Sjogren’s or lupus may be identified through a blood test. If you would like to learn more please contact a care coordinator today!

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