Multiple sclerosis (MS) is an autoimmune disorder that has no cure at this time. The disease is characterized by numbness or weakness throughout the body, vision problems, lack of balance and fatigue. Since there is no specific diagnostic protocol for this disease, a series of tests is typically run to rule out other reasons for the patient’s symptoms. These tests to determine an MS diagnosis might include blood tests, a spinal tap and a diagnostic procedure known as an evoked potential test. A diagnosis of multiple sclerosis results when no other physical disorders are discovered throughout the testing process.
Part 1 of 2: Looking for Symptoms
1Make an appointment with your doctor to discuss your symptoms and a possible multiple sclerosis (MS) diagnosis. While it’s all well and good to try to diagnose MS on your own, the detailed and difficult diagnosis makes it hard for even licensed professionals to achieve certainty.
2Look for the early symptoms of MS. Many people with MS experience their first symptoms between the ages of 20 and 40. If you come across any of the following symptoms, write them down for you doctor to use in ruling out other possible medical conditions:
- Blurred or double vision
- Clumsiness or coordination problems
- Thinking problems
- Loss of balance
- Numbness and tingling
- Weakness in an arm or leg
3Know that symptoms of MS manifest in different ways for different patients.No two cases of MS present in the same way. To this end, you may have:
4Look for the most common symptoms of MS. These symptoms include:
- Feelings pins and needles, but also numbness, itching, burning, or stabbing throughout the body. These symptoms present in about half of patients with MS.
- Bowel and bladder problems. These include constipation, frequent urination, suddenly urgent urination, problems emptying the bladder fully, and the need to urinate at night.
- Muscle weakness or spasms, resulting in difficulty walking. Other potential symptoms can exacerbate this symptom.
- Dizziness or lightheadedness. While outright vertigo is uncommon, feelings of dizziness and lightheadedness are common.
- Fatigue. About 80% of MS patients feel chronic fatigue. Even after a good night’s sleep, many MS sufferers say that they feel tired and drained. Fatigue associated with MS is usually independent of the amount of physical work or exercise that you do.
- Sexual problems, including vaginal dryness in women and difficulty achieving erection in men. Sexual problems can extend to lower responsiveness to touch, lower sex drive, and difficulty achieving orgasm.
- Speech problems. These include long gaps between a string of words, slurred speech, or intensely nasal speech.
- Thinking problems. Difficulty concentrating, difficulty retrieving memory, and low attention span are all common.
- Shaking or tremors, making it difficult to do some everyday activities.
- Eye problems, usually affecting only one eye. Examples include dark spot(s) in the center of the eye, blurred or grey vision, pain, or temporary loss of vision.
Part 2 of 2: Completing the Diagnosis
1Plan for blood tests that bring your doctor closer to a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis. This happens by ruling out other potential diseases that could be causing the symptoms. Inflammatory diseases, infections and chemical imbalances can result in similar symptoms, providing a red flag but also a false alarm. On top of this, many of these disorders can be effectively treated through medication and other treatments.
2Schedule a spinal tap with your doctor. Although a spinal tap, or lumbar puncture, can be painful, it is an essential step in diagnosing MS. This test involves the removal of a small sample of fluid from the spinal canal that is taken for analysis in a laboratory. The spinal tap is often a component in how to diagnose multiple sclerosis, because the fluid may show abnormalities in white blood cells or proteins that may indicate a malfunction of the body’s immune system and the presence of the disease. This test may also rule out other diseases and infections.
- In order to prepare for a lumbar puncture:
- Tell your doctor if you are taking any medications or herbal remedies than may thin out your blood.
- Empty your bladder.
- Sign a consent form and possibly a medical test information form.v
- In order to prepare for a lumbar puncture:
3Prepare for an MRI through your health care provider or local health care facility. This test, also known as magnetic resonance imaging, uses a magnet, radio waves and a computer to create an image of the brain and spinal cord. This test can be helpful in making a multiple sclerosis diagnosis because it often shows abnormalities or damage in these areas that can indicate the presence of the disease.
- An MRI is considered one of the best tests used to diagnose multiple sclerosis to date, although a diagnosis of MS is impossible to make using an MRI alone. That’s because patients can still register a normal MRI and still have MS. On the flip side, elderly people especially can have lesions on the brain that look like MS but which aren’t.
4Ask your doctor about an evoked potential test. As doctors are learning more about how to diagnose multiple sclerosis, this test is providing additional information to get an accurate determination of the disease. The procedure is painless and involves the use of visual or electrical stimuli to measure the electrical signals your body sends to your brain. These tests may be performed by your doctor, but are usually sent to a neurologist for interpretation.
5Make a follow-up appointment with your doctor once all of the tests are complete to determine whether a definitive multiple sclerosis diagnosis can be made. If your doctor can determine how to diagnose multiple sclerosis based on these tests, you will then move toward the treatment phase of the disease. This involves learning to effectively manage symptoms and slow the disease progression.