Multiple Sclerosis Home > Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis

In some cases, it can be difficult to diagnose multiple sclerosis. Some people have few MS attacks or such mild symptoms that they might not recognize an attack. However, recent advances in technology -- such as MRI scans and evoked potentials tests -- are helping doctors confirm a diagnosis much earlier than in times past.

Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis: An Overview

There is no single test used to make a multiple sclerosis diagnosis. When a patient's symptoms, neurological exam results, and medical history suggest multiple sclerosis (MS), doctors use a variety of tools to rule out other possible disorders. They also perform a series of laboratory tests, which, if positive, can confirm the diagnosis.
 
Today, most patients who undergo an evaluation for multiple sclerosis will be classified as either having the disease or not having it. However, there are still cases where a person may have the clinical symptoms of MS but not meet all the criteria to confirm a diagnosis. In these cases, the classification "possible multiple sclerosis" is used.
 

Specific Criteria for Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis

A multiple sclerosis diagnosis is notoriously difficult to make because some people have few MS attacks or such mild symptoms in the early stages that they might not recognize an attack.
 
Doctors use certain criteria to help in diagnosing multiple sclerosis. These criteria include:
 
  • The signs and symptoms begin between the ages of 15 and 60.
     
  • The signs and symptoms indicate a disease of the brain or spinal cord.
     
  • A doctor's exam finds evidence of a diseased brain or spinal cord.
     
  • An MRI scan shows at least two separate areas of scar tissue, or "sclerosis."
     
  • The disease has followed one of two patterns: First, there have been two or more episodes of symptoms that last at least 24 hours and happen more than a month apart. Or, second, the signs and symptoms have progressively increased over the past six months.

 

  • Finally, there can be no other explanation for the person's symptoms.
     
Written by/reviewed by:
Last reviewed by: Arthur Schoenstadt, MD
Last updated/reviewed:
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