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MS Diagnosis FAQs

If you or a family member have been recently diagnosed with MS, it is perfectly normal to have a lot of questions. Find out the answers to some commonly asked questions about MS here.

What are the McDonald criteria?

The McDonald criteria was first introduced in 2001 to allow accurate and timely MS diagnosis and the latest revision was made in 2017, based on latest research. 
This criteria allows earlier diagnosis to get treatment access. 

MRI evidence is used extensively to look for lesions and an MRI is encouraged if MS could be a possibility. A lumbar puncture is another key diagnostic tool as the presence of oligoclonal bands in the spinal fluid is a marker for MS. This shows that there has been disease activity in the past. You may have both or just one. This evidence is then compared with the McDonald criteria to diagnose MS. 

The key requirement for MS is evidence of damage occurring at different times and to different parts of the central nervous system. However, doctors still need to use clinical judgement, e.g. diagnosing MS in children or populations where MS is uncommon

How accurate is an MRI in monitoring relapsing-remitting MS?

In this video, Dr Jonathan White explains magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) scans, and how useful they can be in assessing the severity and progression of relapse-remitting multiple sclerosis (RRMS).

Why is MS so difficult to diagnose?

Unlike many other diseases, there is no single test that can definitely determine whether or not someone has multiple sclerosis. Also, the common symptoms of MS (such as pain, fatigue, depression and more) can be both hard to accurately define and are symptoms of many different diseases. Doctors may use a variety of tests to eliminate other similar conditions.

How is MS diagnosed?

The following methods can be used to help determine whether someone has developed MS or not:

  1. MRI – a scan which can closely examine the nervous system’s myelin sheaths to find evidence of damage.
  2. Neurological examination – a medical professional can assess someone’s vision, co-ordination, speech and other factors to check for signs of nerve damage.
  3. Blood tests – this is unable to confirm an MS diagnosis, but can rule out other diseases with similar symptoms e.g. Lyme disease or vitamin B12 deficiency.
  4. Lumbar puncture – a procedure performed under local anesthetic where spinal fluid is removed with a needle and examined for evidence of immune cells within the brain and spinal cord.
  5. Evoked potential test – the brain’s reaction speed to light patterns is measured with electrodes – slow reactions can be a sign of MS.

What should I do after being diagnosed with MS?

Being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis can be very difficult, but it’s important to remember that you can manage your symptoms, and you are not alone. Following the Overcoming MS program can have a very positive effect on quality of life, and we recommend start it as quickly as possible. In the short term, you could also consider:

  • Talking to others – this is a deeply personal decision, but opening up to friends and family can provide a valuable source of emotional support.
  • Finding support from the MS community – talking to other people with MS, either in person or online, can be a great source of information from people who have gone through the exact same things as you. We recommended our online forum and the OMS Circles for this.
  • Reading others’ accounts – the OMS Stories of Hope is a collection of videos showing how people have been able to overcome MS.