A doctor — most likely a neurologist — will perform several tests to diagnose MS, including:
- neurological exam: your doctor will check for impaired nerve function
- eye exam: a series of tests to evaluate your vision and check for eye diseases
- magnetic resonance imaging (MRI): a technique that uses a powerful magnetic field and radio waves to create cross-sectional images of the brain and spinal cord
- spinal tap (also called a lumbar puncture): a test involving a long needle that’s inserted into your spine to remove a sample of fluid circulating around your brain and spinal cord
Doctors use these tests to look for damage to the central nervous system in two separate areas. They must also determine that at least one month has passed between the episodes that caused damage. These tests are also used to rule out other conditions.
MS often astounds doctors because of how much it can vary in both its severity and the ways that it affects people. Attacks can last a few weeks and then disappear. However, relapses can get progressively worse and more unpredictable, and come with different symptoms. Early detection may help prevent MS from progressing quickly.
Misdiagnosis is also possible. A study found that nearly 75 percent of surveyed MS specialists had seen at least three patients over the past 12 months who had been misdiagnosed.
MS is a challenging disorder, but researchers have discovered many treatments that can slow its progression.
The best defense against MS is seeing your doctor immediately after you experience the first warning signs. This is especially important if someone in your immediate family has the disorder, as it’s one of the key risk factors for MS.
Don’t hesitate. It could make all the difference.