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Tests for MS


If you are referred to a neurologist, there is range of tests that will be used to diagnose MS.

The tests for MS include:

Neurological Examination

A neurologist will first ask you questions about symptoms and past health problems to understand your medical history. This can help to gain a better understanding of you and your overall health, and can help to pinpoint other problems that could explain your symptoms.

The physical examination will involve checking for any changes or weaknesses in your eye movements, leg and hand coordination, balance, sensation, speech or reflexes. This can show whether your nerve pathways are damaged. Although these test results can point towards MS at this point, a diagnosis will not be made until other tests are undertaken to confirm the condition.

MRI scanning

An MRI scanner uses a strong magnetic field to create a detailed image of your brain and spinal cord. It is very accurate and can show whether there is any damage or scarring to your central nervous system. MRI scan results confirm diagnosis in 90 percent of those with MS.

To get the image, you must lie down and enter a tunnel or tube in the centre of the MRI scanner. The procedure can take between 10 and 30 minutes. Some people can feel a little claustrophobic in the scanner and the machine is noisy however the procedure is completely painless. If you have any concerns about this experience you can discuss this with your neurologist.

Evoked potentials

An evoked potentials test involves placing small electrodes on your head. These electrodes will monitor how your brain waves respond to what you see and hear. If there is any damage to the nerve fibres (myelin) then the messages to and from your brain will be slower than usual. Again, this test is completely painless.

Lumbar puncture

This test is also known as a spinal tap, and involves taking a sample of your cerebrospinal fluid by inserting a needle into the area close to your spinal cord. This fluid is then taken and tested for any abnormalities. It is common for people with MS to have antibodies in this fluid, which suggests that your immune system has been fighting a disease in your central nervous system.

The procedure will be performed under local anaesthetic, which means that you will be awake during the lumbar puncture, however the area that is being tested will be numbed. Some people report slight discomfort and people commonly report headaches following the procedure, however the medical staff can advise you on how to manage this. This procedure is usually only used if the other tests for MS are inconclusive.

Other tests

In order to rule out any other conditions that are similar to MS, your doctor may want to perform additional tests. These can include blood tests to identify vitamin deficiencies or reveal certain antibodies, or inner ear tests to test your balance.

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