Multiple Sclerosis Diagnosis

One advantage of seeking care at the University of Chicago is that our specialists understand the intricate, yet subtle differences between multiple sclerosis and other autoimmune diseases -- such as Sjögren's syndrome, Guillain-Barré syndrome, myasthenia gravis, and lupus -- that can exhibit similar warning signs and symptoms. They have the experience and depth of knowledge to more accurately diagnose multiple sclerosis, which is a key factor in better symptom management and medical outcomes.

Jacqueline Bernard, MD, assistant professor of neurology at the University of Chicago Medicine, discusses the warning signs of multiple sclerosis, how it is diagnosed, and why confirming the diagnosis can sometimes be a challenge.

Advanced Diagnostic Tools

There is no one medical test or a set of physical findings that conclusively diagnose multiple sclerosis. Our physicians use a variety of tools to determine whether an individual has MS or another, similar neurological condition. These tools may include:

  • Medical history
  • A neurological exam
  • Evoked potential (EP) tests that measure electrical activity of the brain in response to stimuli
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), which provides information about brain lesions
  • A cerebral spinal fluid analysis, which looks for chemical abnormalities associated with MS
  • Blood tests
  • An optical coherence tomography (OCT) scan, which examines the optic nerve and retinal tissue at the back of the eye. This non-invasive scan is being tested as a "bio-marker" for asymptomatic patients who are at high-risk for developing multiple sclerosis and other neurological disorders. OCT scans also measure the progression of MS in previously diagnosed patients.

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