*Please note: This animation represents a visual interpretation and is not intended to provide, nor substitute as, medical and/or clinical advice.
Multiple sclerosis, or MS, is a disease of the central nervous system. This means it is usually diagnosed by a specialist called a neurologist.
First, the neurologist will review your medical history for evidence of symptoms suggestive of MS.
They will also do a neurological exam in order to find out what part of the central nervous system is affected and to rule out other neurological conditions.
Your neurologist may also request blood tests to rule out other conditions.
Next is an MRI, which is a technique that works especially well at imaging the brain and spinal cord.
On an MRI image, MS plaques show up as white patches.
A neurologist will consider a diagnosis of MS if MRI scans show at least two distinct areas of plaques in characteristic locations in the brain or spinal cord, and if there is evidence that the damage happened at different time points.
An analysis of fluid that surrounds your brain and spinal cord can also be used to help diagnose MS.
MS is usually classified into four different types:
relapsing-remitting MS, secondary progressive MS, primary progressive MS and progressive relapsing MS.
The most common is known as relapsing-remitting MS. It is characterized by attacks of one or more symptoms, followed by periods of remission, or no symptoms. Between attacks, the disease does not progress or get worse.
If the disease gradually worsens in addition to attacks then the MS is classified as secondary-progressive.
Secondary progressive MS normally starts as relapsing-remitting MS.
About 1 in 10 people with MS never have attacks, but have gradual worsening of their illness. This is called primary progressive MS.
And a very small percentage of people have a form of MS that starts out steadily progressive but is also punctuated by attacks of symptoms. This is progressive relapsing MS.
Because of the unpredictable nature of MS, treating and monitoring the disease is very important
Monitoring helps your doctor identify how well your medication is working and whether the condition is getting worse.
In addition to regular office visits, monitoring may include MRI.
In summary, MS is diagnosed by a combination of medical history, brain imaging with MRI, and other tests to exclude other neurological conditions, when needed.
There are different types of MS and the disease varies from person to person.
Monitoring is important to track symptoms and disease progression, and to see how well medication is working.