stethoscope and report

How MS is diagnosed

Learn about 4 common tests used to diagnose MS, and how you can help speed up the testing process

When doctors diagnose multiple sclerosis (MS), they may use a few different tests. That’s because there isn’t necessarily one single test that can diagnose MS. The tests help doctors rule out other conditions and zero in on a diagnosis. The main tests are:

Neurological exam

This is one of the first things a doctor will do to assess whether or not you may have MS. A series of tests are used to provide information so the doctor knows what areas may need further evaluation. The exam looks at a person’s cognition, coordination and strength, vision and hearing, and other senses.

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI)

This machine takes pictures of the inside of your body and is an important test used for diagnosing MS. An MRI lets doctors examine the nervous system for damage. Since the damage of MS can look like the damage caused by other conditions, this test is not always definitive. Learn more about MRIs.

Spinal fluid test

Checking your spinal fluid for abnormalities can be another informative test.

Evoked potentials

This test checks the electrical activity of your nervous system to see if your sensory pathways are properly functioning. This helps measure any damage the nerves have had from MS.

Unfortunately, since there are several different tests that may need to be completed, it can take some time to get a diagnosis. Talk to your doctor if you have any questions about these tests.

There are also a few things you can do to help your doctor reach a diagnosis:

Medical history

Do your best to provide a detailed history of your own health and that of your family. Ask a family member to help you remember details about the health of your parents, grandparents, and other blood relatives.

Keep a journal of your symptoms

Write down any symptoms you're feeling. By keeping a journal, you can tell your doctor about all your symptoms. Your doctor may also want to measure certain symptoms through balance, reflex, or coordination tests.

It’s important to be patient but proactive. Make sure your doctor has the information he or she needs as you work together toward a diagnosis.