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Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis

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Will I Need a Spinal Tap (Lumbar Puncture) to Diagnose MS?

Performing a spinal tap to examine the cerebrospinal fluid may be helpful in diagnosing MS in some people, but it is no longer considered necessary in all instances.

Experienced specialists will be able to determine if you need this test to confirm a suspected diagnosis of MS, particularly if your history and exam suggest the presence of the disease. Abnormalities that may appear in the cerebrospinal fluid can be very helpful in establishing a diagnosis, but, like other tests, spinal taps are not foolproof in diagnosing MS.

What Other Tests Are Performed to Diagnose Multiple Sclerosis?

Electrical tests of the nerve pathways, known as evoked potentials, may be helpful in confirming whether MS has affected the visual, auditory, or sensory pathways. These tests are done by placing wires on the scalp to test the brain's response to certain types of stimulation, such as watching a pattern on a video screen, hearing a series of clicks, or receiving electrical impulses in your arm or leg.

Your doctor may order a blood test to help rule out conditions that mimic multiple sclerosis, but the presence of MS cannot be detected in the blood.

Accepting the Diagnosis of Multiple Sclerosis

The diagnosis of multiple sclerosis can be a lengthy process. Upon hearing the diagnosis, you may feel a mixture of emotions, including denial, fear, relief, optimism, or hope. For some people, a diagnosis after months or years of symptoms is a relief, but for others it may be shocking. Even when a diagnosis of MS is made, the uncertainty is not over. You may have some concerns about the unknown elements of the disease, its course and its impact. This is completely understandable. The course of MS is unpredictable; not knowing how the disease will affect you over the long term is probably the most difficult factor to deal with. Sharing your thoughts and emotions with others can help you cope with the diagnosis. Remember that MS affects everyone differently, so what one person with MS experiences may not be what you will experience. To learn more about coping with a diagnosis of MS, visit Living With MS.

WebMD Medical Reference

Reviewed by Neil Lava, MD on September 03, 2014
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