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What is Involved in a Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis?

Jessica Ellis
Updated May 17, 2024
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Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a degenerative disease often diagnosed in adults between the ages of 20-40. Diagnosis is a complicated process that can take some time, as symptoms may at first seem unrelated and can often disappear for long periods of time. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis can take a severe emotional toll on a patient and his or her family, and may require many large lifestyle changes.

Usually, a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis begins with a patient experiencing unusual neurological and nerve-related symptoms. These may include dizziness, blurred vision, or numbness and pain in the legs or arms. Sometimes symptoms disappear after a short time, restoring a patient to seeming perfect health. It may take several years for symptoms to cause a patient to seek diagnosis, as long periods of total remission are quite common in the early stages of the disease.

The first examination that can lead to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis will include a physical exam; questions about family history; and often tests to determine coordination, reflexes, and response to touch and sight stimulus. Family history is very important, as studies have shown that those with a close relative that has MS are at a higher risk of developing the condition. Those with thyroid issues, diabetes, or a history of certain infections may also have an increased risk to some degree.

After the initial examination, a doctor may order additional tests to rule out or inform a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. Blood tests are common, but some physicians may also order that a sample of spinal fluid be collected for analysis. A magnetic image resonance or MRI test may be done on the head, to give doctors a three-dimensional image of the brain and show any signs of the lesions associated with MS.

Another type of test done for a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is called the evoked potential test. In this examination, a patient will be hooked up to a machine that can measure brain activity and response. The patient is given visual stimuli as well as electrical pulses that activate nerves, and the brain response is recorded.

If a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is confirmed, a doctor will likely want to help explain options and possible treatments. He or she may offer medications that can reduce the frequency of MS episodes, prevent infections, and help slow down the progression of the disease. Doctors may advise counseling to help deal with the emotional and psychological repercussions of the diagnosis. Before coming to the appointment, consider putting together a list of important questions to ask that might be difficult to remember in the difficulty of hearing a diagnosis.

WiseGeek is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Jessica Ellis
By Jessica Ellis , Writer
With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis brings a unique perspective to her work as a writer for WiseGeek. While passionate about drama and film, Jessica enjoys learning and writing about a wide range of topics, creating content that is both informative and engaging for readers.

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Jessica Ellis

Jessica Ellis


With a B.A. in theater from UCLA and a graduate degree in screenwriting from the American Film Institute, Jessica Ellis...
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