Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis

Multiple Sclerosis is a devastating autoimmune disease where your body’s own immune system attacks nerves in your brain and spinal cord. The name comes from the scarring or sclerosis that appears in your brain tissue. Millions are affected by this disease, and there is no cure at the present time. Unfortunately, there is no clear way to diagnose the disease, though there are many tests that are used to show that MS is potentially present in the body.

The first method that’s used is a review of your complete medical history combined with a standard neurological exam, which measures how well your brain and spinal cord are functioning. The doctor’s skill is also an important factor, since an expert in MS will know which questions need to be asked in order to properly evaluate the symptoms of an improperly functioning nervous system.

Other tests that will sometimes be used to assist in a diagnosis include an MRI, which can show scar tissue that’s characteristic of the disease. Even so, scarring can be caused by other diseases as well, so it’s often up to the neurologist to make a judgement based on what he or she knows about the individual patient. Sometimes a spinal tap or a lumbar puncture will be administered, where a small amount of cerebrospinal fluid that runs through your spinal column is examined for the disease, or an evoked potential test will also be used. This test involves placing wires on your scalp to test your brain’s response to electrical stimuli, and can also detect if the brain’s neural pathways have been damaged. Blood tests may also be performed, for even though MS itself won’t appear in a test other diseases that mimic its symptoms can be detected.

Although none of these tests are fool-proof, they can give neurologists a good idea if you have the disease. The accepted medical criteria for having the disease include exhibiting MS symptoms between the ages of 20-50 years old, having visible damage on the brain or spinal cord, evidence of multiple abnormalities on an MRI, or at least two or more episodes of symptoms that last at least 24 hours and occur at least a month apart of each other. Once MS has been positively identified, your doctor will determine how advanced the disease is, the prognosis over a set period of time, and different treatment options to help combat the symptoms.

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