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HealthInfo Canterbury

Diagnosing & treating multiple sclerosis (MS)

If you start to have symptoms that might be multiple sclerosis (MS), your GP will probably send you to see a neurologist. If you're very unwell you might need to be admitted into hospital.

Diagnosing MS

Doctors can't diagnose MS using a single test or procedure.

Multiple sclerosis can only be diagnosed when there's evidence that two separate areas of your nervous system have been affected, at least a month apart. As well as this, other possible causes of your symptoms must be ruled out.

A neurologist will ask you about your symptoms and examine you. Often they'll need to watch you and wait to see if new symptoms appear, or previous symptoms come back. This can be frustrating and the process can take months or even years.

The neurologist may organise an MRI scan of your spinal cord or brain. They may also arrange other tests such as a lumbar puncture or evoked potential tests.

Evoked potential tests measure the electrical signals in your nervous system in response to stimulation. There are several types of evoked potential tests, including:

You will also have blood tests to rule out other conditions that cause similar symptoms to MS.

A diagnosis of MS can't be used to predict how bad your MS will be, how fast it will progress, or what symptoms you'll get.

Medications for MS

Several medications can help reduce the frequency and severity of relapses of multiple sclerosis in relapsing-remitting MS. Your neurologist will recommend the best options for you.

Medications that work on your immune system include dimethyl fumarate, fingolimod, glatiramer acetate, interferon, natalizumab and teriflunomide.

Medications that can treat the symptoms of MS include amantadine, amitriptyline, baclofen, bisacodyl, carbamazepine, dantrolene, loperamide, nortriptyline, oxybutynin, sildenafil, solifenacin and valproate sodium.

On the next page: Self-care for multiple sclerosis (MS)

Written by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Endorsed by Canterbury Initiative multiple sclerosis workgroup. Last reviewed September 2019.


Page reference: 421856

Review key: HIMSC-58142