Editor’s note: Tamara Sellman continues her occasional series on the MS alphabet with this first of two columns about terms starting with the letter L.
Symptoms of MS
Lesions are a defining feature of MS. They also are referred to as scars or plaques. These areas of damage identify areas in the central nervous system where the immune system has mistakenly attacked the outer coating of nerves, known as myelin. Lesions can be found anywhere, but usually are most common along the optic nerve, spinal cord, and brain stem. They usually are detected using magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).
LP (Lumbar Puncture)
Lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap) is the procedure used to help identify the presence of MS.
In the procedure, a specialist inserts a long, thin needle into the lower back, or lumbar section of the spine, to extract spinal fluid from the spinal column. Once extracted, it is tested to see if the spinal fluid contains certain protein markers.
The procedure is generally recognized as safe and has few side effects, the most common being a severe spinal headache that can occur up to two days after the procedure.
Specifically, your neurologist orders a lumbar puncture to find out if certain proteins are present in the spinal fluid. These are known as oligoclonal bands (or O bands, for short).
The presence of a certain amount of O bands in one’s spinal fluid can confirm an MS diagnosis.
However, not everyone tests positive for O bands in the spinal fluid. In fact, as many as 10 percent of people with MS do not have a positive LP finding.
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