MS tests and examinations explained
This article explains all about the different tests and exams involved in MS.
It can be worrying going into the neurology centre or hospital but knowing what might happen will help.
MS tests and examinations explained
Discussion of symptoms and medical history
It all starts with a conversation. At any appointment your healthcare professional (HCP) will ask you questions about how you have been feeling and what you have been experiencing. If you’ve not yet been diagnosed, or it’s the first time that you’ve met this HCP they may ask you about your medical history too.
As someone with MS, or suspected MS it is likely that you will have a lot to tell them. For this reason it’s helpful to have plotted out a timeline of when you experienced any changes or particular healthcare events so you don’t miss any important details.
Don’t worry, nothing you tell your HCP will surprise them. Also don’t be afraid to ask them to confirm what they mean if they ask you something you’re not sure about.
Physical examination from the doctor
Your doctor will also give you a physical examination. This is to assess your physical condition. They may do tests that check your:
- Eye function
- Coordination in your legs and hands
MRI (Magnetic resonance imaging)
An MRI is a scan that uses a magnetic field that creates a very detailed image on your brain and spinal cord. Scans are used in the initial diagnosis of MS and also to track the disease’s progress.
It’s not painful and does not involve radiation. An MRI scan shows areas of inflammation, damage or scarring (referred to as lesions).It works by showing the amount of water in your tissues. Myelin repels water so if the scan shows more water than normal, it means there is less myelin present.
Lumbar puncture or spinal tap
A lumbar puncture or spinal tap (they’re the same thing) is a procedure to test your spinal fluid. It is done using a local anaesthetic and involves inserting a thin needle between your vertebrae into your lower back to remove some of the fluid.
The procedure is not always used to diagnose MS but is sometimes used as part of the process. The test is used to look for antibodies which are present in people with MS.
The test is generally a safe procedure and serious side effects are uncommon. The most common side effect is a headache in the days following the procedure. Your healthcare team will tell you how to manage this if it happens. You should plan to take it easy after your lumbar puncture.
If you have not yet been diagnosed with MS your healthcare provider might do some blood tests to rule out other conditions.
Blood tests are also used for monitoring disease modifying therapies (DMTs) if you are using them.
Evoked potential tests
This is a painless test which measures the brain electrical activity. It is used to test how long it takes for your brain to receive messages from your skin, ears and eyes. The test can show slowed brain activity which can indicate that you have MS.
Electrical activity can be detected on your scalp so this test involves wires being placed on your scalp. You will then be exposed to lights, sounds and other sensations whilst your brain waves are monitored.
Owning your medical records
You are entitled to have copies of your medical records. The access you automatically get will be different depending on where you live.
It is useful to keep copies of your medical information for your own records. You might find it interesting to look at but also it can be helpful when you’re seeing new or additional doctors.
Depending on where you’re being treated you may have apps or portals from your healthcare provider. If you’re in a less technologically advanced system you can just ask to be copied into all letters that are sent about you.
You are able to securely store scans and medical notes in Emilyn if you need a way of keeping everything together.