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Genetic and Rare Diseases Information Center (GARD)

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Multiple sclerosis


* Not a rare disease
Other Names for this Disease
  • MS
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Tests & Diagnosis

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How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?

Symptoms of MS may mimic those of many other nervous system disorders. The disease is a clinical diagnosis,[3196] and is typically diagnosed by ruling out other conditions. A health care provider may suspect MS if there are decreases in the function of two different parts of the central nervous system (such as abnormal reflexes) at two different times (referred to as dissemination in time and space).[3196][3197] Dissemination in time and space is commonly used criteria for diagnosing relapsing-remitting MS (RR-MS). Dissemination in time means that there are at least two clinical attacks, each lasting at least 24 hours, separated by at least one month, or a slow, stepwise progressive course for at least six months. Dissemination in space means that there are lesions in more than one area or functional system of the brain or spinal cord white matter. For primary progressive MS (PP-MS), there are currently no diagnostic criteria that are universally accepted.[3196]

Physicians may perform a variety of tests to evaluate an individual suspected of having MS. A neurological exam may show reduced nerve function in one area of the body, or spread over many parts of the body. This may include abnormal nerve reflexes, decreased ability to move a part of the body, decreased or abnormal sensation, and other loss of nervous system functions. An eye examination may show abnormal pupil responses, changes in the visual fields or eye movements, decreased visual acuity, problems with the inside parts of the eye, and rapid eye movements triggered when the eye moves. Other specific tests to diagnose multiple sclerosis may include lumbar puncture (spinal tap) for cerebrospinal fluid tests; MRI scan of the brain and MRI scan of the spine; nerve function study; and a variety of blood tests.[3197]
Last updated: 3/30/2011