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Diagnosing MS

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can be difficult to diagnose, because some people have few MS attacks or such mild symptoms that the disease might go unnoticed until it is more severe. However, recent advances in technology -- such as MRI scans and an evoked potentials test -- are assisting doctors in diagnosing this disease much earlier than before so that treatment can be started as soon as possible.

Diagnosing MS: An Overview

There is no single test for diagnosing MS (multiple sclerosis). When a patient's symptoms, neurological exam results, and medical history suggest MS, physicians use a variety of tools to rule out other possible disorders. They also perform a series of laboratory tests, which, if positive, confirm the diagnosis.
These other tests may include things like:
  • Blood tests
  • An MRI scan
  • A spinal tap
  • An electrical test called "evoked potentials," which tests the function of your sensory nerves.

Specific Criteria for Making an MS Diagnosis

Diagnosing MS is notoriously difficult, since 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 this disease. 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.
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