What tests are used to diagnose multiple sclerosis (MS)?

The specific tests that help diagnosis multiple sclerosis (MS) include the following:

  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): Health care professionals may use MRI to scan the brain for lesions indicating early evidence of damage, in addition to other tests. An MRI is painless and noninvasive. During MRI people lie on their back on a table. The table will be pushed into a tube-like structure and detailed pictures of the brain and, sometimes, spinal cord, will be taken. These images are able to show scarred areas of the brain.
  • Visual evoked potential tests (VEPs): VEPs measure how quickly a person's nervous system responds to certain stimulation. These tests offer evidence of neurological scarring along nerve pathways that may not show up during neurologic exams. Evoked potential tests are painless and noninvasive. A health care professional or technician will place small electrodes on the head to monitor brain waves and the person's response to auditory, visual and/or sensory stimuli. The time it takes for the brain to receive and interpret messages is a clue to the person's condition.
  • Spinal tap: A spinal tap tests cerebrospinal fluid (fluid surrounding the brain and spinal cord) for substances that indicate strong immune activity in the central nervous system and helps rule out viral infections and other conditions that can cause neurological symptoms similar to those of MS. A person undergoing this test will likely be given an injection of local anesthesia. Some people experience a transient headache and nausea after the test.
  • Blood tests: These may help rule out other potential causes of symptoms, such as Lyme disease, lupus and AIDS.
  • Optical coherence tomography (OCT): OCT is a painless, noninvasive procedure that looks at the retinal structures at the back of the eye. Following an episode of optic neuritis, doctors use OCT to assess the condition of the retinal nerve. People with MS have a different retinal nerve fiber layer than people without MS. Doctors use OCT to learn more about optic neuritis and MS, as well as to get information about disease activity in a person with a suspected MS diagnosis.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.