Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis
There is no single test to diagnosis multiple sclerosis (MS), but a thorough physical and neurologic examination that includes imaging and other tests, combined with a careful study of a patient’s medical history, are a first step to diagnosing the disease and, importantly, ruling out other possible causes of symptoms being reported. A patient should report symptoms common to MS quickly to a physician, as early treatment can help to counter the disease’s intensity and progression.
Magnetic Resonance Imaging
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is the preferred imaging tool used to diagnose MS and to track the disease’s progression. It is the most non-invasive and sensitive technique available for imaging the brain, spinal cord, or other body areas. MRI uses a strong magnetic field and radio waves — but not radiation — to measure the relative water content in tissues, whether normal or abnormal tissues. It creates detailed images of areas to reveal nerve damage.
Evoked Potential Test
Evoked potential (EP) tests measure the electrical activity of the brain in response to hearing, sound, or sight stimulus. These tests can detect the speed of the impulse that passes through the nerves and are sensitive enough to detect lesions even before they show up on neurological exams or symptoms become obvious. Although EP tests are used in diagnosing MS, they are not specific to this condition. Other tests need to be considered a diagnosis can be confirmed.
Spinal Tap Test
A spinal tap, also known as lumbar puncture, is done in a hospital or clinic setting where a small sample of the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is collected, using a thin needle, from the lower lumber region (lower back). A sample that shows abnormal results in proteins and inflammatory cells may indicate MS. Besides a spinal tap, other tests need to be done before a confirmed diagnosis of MS is reached.