Healthcare providers have a series of tests and tools for diagnosing MS, which include learning your medical history and conducting neurologic exams, screening and imaging tests, and blood tests to rule out other potential causes of your symptoms.
Medical history and neurologic exam
Your healthcare provider:
- Takes a careful history to identify any past or present symptoms that might be caused by MS.
- Gathers information about birthplace, family history, environmental exposures, history of other illnesses and places visited that might provide further clues.
- Performs a comprehensive neurologic exam, which includes tests of cranial nerves (vision, hearing, facial sensation, strength, swallowing), nerve conduction (to test sensation in the extremities), reflexes, coordination, walking and balance.
In many instances, medical history and a neurologic exam provide enough evidence to meet the diagnostic criteria. Other tests are used to confirm the diagnosis or to identify other possible causes of the symptoms or neurological exam findings.
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a diagnostic tool that offers the most sensitive, noninvasive way to examine the brain, spinal cord or other areas of the body. It is a valuable tool for diagnosing MS and tracking the progression of the disease.
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) analysis
Cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) is a clear, colorless liquid that surrounds the brain and spinal cord. In MS, damage to myelin causes certain types of proteins to be released into the spinal fluid. When these proteins are identified in the spinal fluid, but not in the blood, MS is thought to be one of the possible diagnoses. Spinal fluid is collected through a lumbar puncture (also known as a spinal tap). The CSF is then sent for testing and analysis.
While there is no definitive blood test for MS, blood tests can rule out other conditions that cause symptoms similar to those of MS, including lupus erythematosus, Sjogren's syndrome, vitamin and mineral deficiencies, some infections and rare hereditary diseases.