Multiple sclerosis is an autoimmune disorder that affects the myelin in the central nervous system, which consists of the brain and spinal cord. When an individual has multiple sclerosis, her immune system attacks the myelin sheath in the central nervous system, resulting in nerve damage. The resulting nerve damage affects neuronal communication.
An estimated 400,000 people in the United States have multiple sclerosis, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
Currently, there is not a specific diagnostic test for multiple sclerosis. Instead, the diagnosis is made by ruling out other conditions, according to the MayoClinic.com.
Patients may undergo several lab tests, such as a blood test or a lumbar puncture, in which the health care professional takes a sample of the patient’s cerebrospinal fluid from her spinal cord.
Imaging, such as an MRI, may be done to look for lesions in the brain. Different techniques can be used with the MRI that help with diagnosing multiple sclerosis.
For example, magnetic resonance spectroscopy, or MRS, shows data on the biochemistry of the brain. If magnetization transfer imaging, or MTI, is used it can show abnormalities in the brain before an MRI would show a lesion.
Another diagnostic tool used is an evoked potential test, which measures the brain’s electrical signals. This test allows the health care provider to look at the patient’s nerve functioning.
New research is investigating diagnostic techniques that can help health care providers diagnose multiple sclerosis. One study, which was conducted by researchers at Harvard Medical School and Brigham and Women’s Hospital, looked at a molecular technique that may help diagnose more aggressive types of the disease.
The study included 363 individuals who had relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, which is the most common type of multiple sclerosis.
Some patients who have relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis may develop more progressive forms of the disease, such as secondary-progressive multiple sclerosis, noted the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.
The individuals in this study had not received treatment.