Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis

Multiple sclerosis diagnosis can initially be tricky because it can affect any part of the central nervous system and can therefore present quite differently in each individual patient. There is no single test which confirms the diagnosis of MS. Therefore there are various criteria which are evaluated to assess whether a patient's symptoms and progression are consistent with the disease. Typically, this process of diagnosis is undertaken by a neurologist.

Some disease that can initially be misdiagnosed as MS or confused with MS include vasculitis, migraine headaches, multiple strokes, vitamin deficiencies, lupus or brain infections.

Making the Diagnosis

First of all, a good medical history and thorough neurological examination can help your physician identify those aspects of the disease which are consistent with MS. Details of the onset, progression of the symptoms and types of symptoms are particularly important parts of the medical history which can help distinguish multiple sclerosis from other diseases.

In addition, there are several tests or imaging studies which help to make the diagnosis or rule out other similar diseases. These can include brain and spine MRI, spinal taps (lumbar puncture), evoked potentials and blood tests.

With all of this clinical information gathered, there are several criteria which are then used to arrive at the diagnosis:

  • Onset of disease: typically occurs between 20 and 50 years of age.
  • Objective signs and symptoms referable to disease of the brain and/or spinal cord (peripheral nerve disease is not caused by MS).
  • MRI evidence of two or more lesions in the brain and/or spinal cord.
  • A history of two or more episodes lasting at least 24 hours and occurring at least one month apart (particularly for relapsing-remitting forms of the disease).
  • No other explanation for the symptoms

Only if these criteria are met and a full work-up has been done can a physician make the working diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.

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Important Note: This site is not intended to offer medical advice. Every patient is different, and only your personal physician can help to counsel you about what is best for your situation. What we offer is general reference information about various disorders and treatments for your education.

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