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Multiple sclerosis - How do doctors diagnose multiple sclerosis?

BMJ Group Medical Reference

There isn't any simple test that says you have multiple sclerosis (MS). Because MS symptoms can come and go, it can take time to be sure you have the right diagnosis.

MS is a serious disease. Doctors don't want to tell you that you have it if you don't, or tell you everything is OK only to find that you have MS after all. Unless your diagnosis is very clear, doctors will often wait to see if your symptoms come back before referring you to a specialist and doing a lot of tests.

Seeing your GP

The doctor you will probably see first is your GP. Here is what they are likely to do.

If your GP thinks you could have MS, they should refer you to a doctor who specialises in diseases of the brain and spinal cord (a neurologist).[2]

If your symptoms are mild and could be caused by something else, your GP may wait to see if your symptoms come back before referring you to a neurologist.[2]

Seeing a specialist

You should be able to see a neurologist within six weeks of being referred by your GP.[2]

The neurologist may repeat some of the things your GP has already done. Here is what the neurologist will probably do.

  • The specialist will probably ask you questions to find out more about your symptoms and if they fit with MS.

  • The specialist may give you a physical examination to see if there are any signs of damage to your nerves.

  • The specialist may do some tests to see how likely it is that MS is causing your symptoms, or if some other condition might be causing them.

Making the diagnosis

Once the neurologist has the results of all of your tests, they can try to make a diagnosis. If you have MS, these tests should show that:

  • The coating of your nerves (called myelin) has been damaged in at least two places in your brain and spinal cord

  • Your symptoms aren't caused by another condition.

If the specialist tells you that you probably have MS, they should take time to discuss the diagnosis with you and give you written information about MS and about local and national organisations that can help you.[2] You should also be put in touch with a specialist nurse or another health professional who knows about MS, so they can talk about your diagnosis with you and organise any help you might need.[2]


For references related to Multiple sclerosis click here.
Last Updated: March 25, 2013
This information does not replace medical advice.  If you are concerned you might have a medical problem please ask your Boots pharmacy team in your local Boots store, or see your doctor.
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