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Diagnosing MS isn't always easy. In some cases, it may take time.
Your medical history and neurological exam can identify possible nervous system problems. These tests are often enough to strongly suggest a diagnosis of MS. Tests may help confirm or rule out the diagnosis when your history and exam don't show clear evidence of the disease. An MRI and a neurological exam may help doctors predict which people will develop MS after a first attack of symptoms.
Tests to diagnose MS
These tests include:
Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and spinal cord. This test is done to confirm a diagnosis of MS.
Lumbar puncture (sometimes called a spinal tap). This test may be done to evaluate cerebrospinal fluid. Most people with MS have abnormal results on this test.
Evoked potential testing. This test can often reveal abnormal areas in the brain and spinal cord and in the optic nerves of the eyes. Other tests may not find these.
Tests to confirm a diagnosis
MS is diagnosed when neurological tests and a neurological exam clearly show lesions (damaged areas). The lesions will be in more than one area of the central nervous system (usually the brain, spinal cord, or the nerves to the eyes). Tests will also clearly show that damage has occurred at more than one point in time.
Some people have had only one episode of a neurological symptom such as optic neuritis, but MRI tests suggest that they may have MS. This is known as a clinically isolated syndrome. Many of these people go on to get MS over time.
Tests to diagnose other health problems
Urinary tract tests may be needed to help diagnose a problem with bladder control in a person who has MS.
Neuropsychological tests may be needed to identify thinking or emotional problems. The person may not be aware of these problems. In most cases, these tests are in a question-and-answer format.
A blood test for JC virus antibodies may be done. This test can help you and your doctor understand your risk for getting a rare but serious brain infection called PML (progressive multifocal leukoencephalopathy).
Clinical trials are research studies that evaluate a new medical approach, device, drug, or other treatment. As a Stanford Health Care patient, you may have access to the latest, advanced clinical trials.
Open trials refer to studies currently accepting participants. Closed trials are not currently enrolling, but may open in the future.