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Tests That Identify Multiple Sclerosis and Conditions That Mimic It

Tests Used in Making a Diagnosis

Recent advances in technology have helped doctors diagnose people with MS earlier than in times past. Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), a non-invasive form of taking pictures of the brain to detect MS lesions, has been particularly helpful in this area.
 
Other tests that can help confirm a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis may include:
 
  • Blood tests
  • A spinal tap
  • An electrical test called "evoked potentials," which tests the function of your sensory nerves.
     
MRI
As mentioned, the best test for diagnosing MS is MRI (magnetic resonance imaging). MRI is painless, noninvasive, and does not expose the body to radiation. MRI produces x-ray-like images that are better than other methods for seeing certain areas of the central nervous system. With an MRI scan, it is possible to see the places where myelin has been damaged.
 
More than one MRI may be done over time. Several MRIs can show plaques appearing in different areas of the central nervous system at different times. This confirms a multiple sclerosis diagnosis.
 
Spinal Tap
A sample of fluid from your spine may be analyzed for protein changes that are often found in people who have MS. This is called a spinal tap, LP, or lumbar puncture.
 
Other Tests
If the diagnosis of MS is still uncertain after an MRI or spinal tap, your healthcare provider may do a test that measures how fast your nerves conduct impulses. This is called an evoked potentials test.
  

Conditions That Mimic MS

A number of other diseases may produce symptoms similar to those seen in MS. This fact is one reason why a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis can be difficult to make.
 
Other conditions with an intermittent course and MS-like lesions of the brain's white matter include:
 
  • Polyarteritis
  • Lupus erythematosus
  • Syringomyelia
  • Tropical spastic paraparesis
  • Some cancers
  • Certain tumors that compress the brainstem or spinal cord
  • Lyme disease.
     
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