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How Is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?

  • Category: Health & Wellness
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  • Written By: Lompoc Valley Medical Center
How Is Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosed?

Multiple sclerosis cannot be diagnosed with a single test but with a series of diagnostic tests, including a spinal tap, blood testing, and MRI.

Multiple sclerosis (MS) affects nearly one million people in the United States and 2.8 million globally. It is a disease in which the immune system attacks and eats away at the protective covering of nerves known as myelin. When not managed, MS can lead to permanent nerve damage that can cause serious problems, including depression and paralysis.

There are no specific tests that can diagnose multiple sclerosis. However, you may be diagnosed with multiple sclerosis if you are experiencing its signs and symptoms and get other tests that rule out other conditions.

Here's more about how multiple sclerosis is diagnosed and how to contact Lompoc Valley Medical Center when you're ready to seek treatment.

What Are Signs and Symptoms Of Multiple Sclerosis?

Multiple sclerosis causes a large variety of signs and symptoms. This can often make it extremely difficult for you and your doctor to determine if you have this disease immediately without testing.

Symptoms of multiple sclerosis may include:

  • Numbness or weakness in one or both arms or legs. This usually occurs on only one side of the body.
  • Muscle stiffness or spasms.
  • Feelings of electric shock when moving your neck in specific ways.
  • Squeezing sensation around the torso. This may feel similar to a blood pressure cuff being tightened.
  • Tremors.
  • Poor balance and coordination.
  • Blurred vision.
  • Double vision.
  • Partial or total vision loss. This usually affects only one eye at a time and causes pain when you move your eyes.
  • Slurred speech.
  • Fatigue.
  • Dizziness.
  • Tingling sensation in various parts of your body.
  • Pain or itching in various parts of your body.
  • Poor bladder and bowel control.
  • Sexual dysfunction.
  • Difficulty processing information.
  • Difficulty learning or remembering things.
  • Anxiety
  • Depression
  • Mood swings and irritability.
  • Episodes of uncontrollable laughing or crying.
  • Speech problems.
  • Swallowing problems.
  • Loss of taste.
  • Seizures.

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider immediately if you are experiencing any of the above signs or symptoms of MS.

What Are Risk Factors Of Multiple Sclerosis?

The exact cause of MS is unknown. However, certain genetic and environmental factors may increase your risk for this disease.

Potential risk factors of multiple sclerosis include:

  • Age. Anyone can get MS, but it usually begins between 20 and 40.
  • Being female.
  • Have a family history of multiple sclerosis.
  • Being a twin of someone with multiple sclerosis.
  • One or more infections linked to MS, such as the Epstein-Barr virus or chlamydia pneumonia.
  • Being white or having a Northern European ancestry.
  • Low vitamin D levels.
  • Lack of sunlight exposure.
  • Having another autoimmune disease like type 1 diabetes or psoriasis.
  • Smoking.
  • Obesity.
  • Allergies.
  • Exposure to household pets.
  • Exposure to heavy metals such as lead or mercury.
  • Exposure to chemical solvents.

Make an appointment with your healthcare provider if you meet one or more of these risk factors and are also having symptoms of MS.

What Is the Diagnostic Process For Multiple Sclerosis?

There isn't a specific test or procedure that can reveal whether you have multiple sclerosis. If you think you have this disease, your doctor will most likely talk to you about your symptoms and do several tests to rule out other conditions.

Medical History Review

Your doctor will review your medical history to see if you meet any risk factors for MS. For example, your doctor may look to see if you ever had the Epstein-Barr virus or if you have type 1 diabetes. Your medical history may also show results of diagnostic tests you recently had done, like blood tests.

Physical Exam

A physical exam can help your doctor confirm whether your symptoms may be related to MS. Your doctor may test the nerves that control your vision, strength, and hearing. Your doctor may also observe your reflexes, balance, and coordination.

Blood Tests

Blood tests can help your doctor rule out other diseases and problems that cause the same symptoms as multiple sclerosis. Nutritional deficiencies, lupus, and Sjogren's disease are some of many conditions with the same symptoms as MS.

Spinal Tap

A spinal tap can reveal whether you have any abnormalities in antibodies linked to multiple sclerosis. It can also work like a blood test to rule out other diseases and infections that cause the same symptoms. During a spinal tap, your doctor will take a small sample of fluid from your spinal canal and send it to the lab for analysis.


An MRI can reveal whether you have lesions on your brain and spinal cord caused by MS. During an MRI, you lie on a table that slides into a long, narrow tube. Then, the MRI machine uses radio waves to create images of the inside of your body. An MRI can last anywhere between 15 minutes to more than an hour.

Evoked Potential Tests

An evoked potential test records the electrical signals being produced by your nervous system when it is stimulated. These tests may use electrical or visual stimuli to determine how quickly information travels through your nerves. Your doctor may be able to tell whether you have MS after reviewing the results of these tests.

Your doctor can talk to you in greater detail about the type of diagnostic tests you may receive if it is suspected that you have MS. To arrive at an accurate diagnosis, your doctor must rule out all other possible medical conditions and find evidence of damage in two separate regions of your nervous system. Your doctor must also find evidence that each damaged area occurred at different times.

The Importance Of Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis Early On

There is no cure for MS. However, if the disease is caught early on, your healthcare team can help you manage your symptoms and slow their progression.

Getting a proper diagnosis can help you feel less anxious and stressed about why you are experiencing specific symptoms. It can put your mind at ease, especially if you fear the worst. Also, being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis means you can begin treatment as soon as possible so your symptoms can improve.

An early diagnosis gives you extra time to explore your treatment options for MS. Then, you can work with your doctor to develop a treatment plan that works best for you. Treatments for multiple sclerosis may include medications, plasma exchange, and physical therapy. Your doctor may also suggest making healthy lifestyle changes to improve your symptoms, such as quitting smoking or losing weight.

What Are Treatment Options For Multiple Sclerosis?

Treatment for MS usually depends on the type of symptoms you have. Your doctor may prescribe medications that control specific symptoms or show you exercises that can strengthen weak muscles affected by MS.

Corticosteroids or plasma exchange may be used to treat an MS attack when symptoms suddenly get worse or you develop new symptoms. Corticosteroids can reduce nerve inflammation, while plasma exchange removes proteins in your blood, causing your symptoms.

The progression of MS may be slowed by a medication called ocrelizumab. This drug works by targeting cells that attack and damage myelin.

Relapsing-remitting MS may be treated using oral and injectable medications that reduce the relapse rate and slow the formation of new lesions. These medications may also stop the brain from shrinking and reduce the risk of other disabilities caused by MS. Interferon beta medications, fingolimod, and alemtuzumab are some of the many drugs used to treat relapsing-remitting MS.

Some symptoms of multiple sclerosis may be treated using specific medications for those symptoms. For instance, muscle relaxants may reduce muscle pain and stiffness. Antidepressants or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may be used to treat depression. Amantadine may be used to reduce fatigue.

What Lifestyle Behaviors Can Help Multiple Sclerosis?

Certain behaviors may reduce your symptoms of MS and help you experience relief. These behaviors include:

  • Getting quality sleep. Sleep and rest give your body a chance to heal and re-energize, especially when you're feeling fatigued.
  • Exercising regularly. Exercise can help strengthen weak muscles and make you feel more energetic. It can also improve your balance and coordination. Walking, bicycling, and yoga are mild to moderate exercises recommended for people with MS.
  • Staying cool. High body temperature can often worsen symptoms of multiple sclerosis. Avoid spending too much time outdoors when it's hot to avoid MS attacks.
  • Eating highly nutritious foods. Vitamins, minerals, and other nutrients can help your body fight diseases and strengthen your immune system. Eat lots of fruits, vegetables, and other healthy foods—especially those high in vitamin D.
  • Managing stress. Stress causes your body to release more cortisol, a stress hormone. High amounts of this hormone can often trigger or worsen your MS symptoms. Practice deep breathing or meditation, or do yoga or Tai Chi exercises.
  • Spending time with your loved ones. Your friends and relatives can be a great source of support when managing symptoms of MS. Stay connected to your loved ones while receiving MS treatment.
  • Joining an MS support group. An MS support group can expose you to other people who have this disease and who may be able to share helpful coping tips and home remedies.
Multiple Sclerosis Screening At Lompoc Valley Medical Center

Lompoc Valley Medical Center is home to a large team of board-certified physicians who can help you manage and live with multiple sclerosis. If you think you may have MS, we can perform the necessary testing to properly diagnose your condition. Contact us today at (805) 737-3382 to request an appointment and learn more about our many healthcare services.