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Choices leaflet: Diagnosis

Multiple sclerosis (MS) can present different symptoms in different people at different times and the process of diagnosis can be a lengthy one for some. Formal diagnosis is based on a number of things such as looking into medical history, neurological examinations and a series of tests. Other conditions need to be ruled out before a diagnosis can be confirmed. 

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In October 2014, the National Institute of Health and Care Excellence (NICE) issued new guidelines for the management of multiple sclerosis, including guidelines for the steps medical advisors, such as GPs and neurologists, should take to reach (or exclude) a diagnosis of MS.

NICE states that the most common symptoms or ‘clinical presentations’ a person would visit their GP with are:

  • Loss or reduction in vision in one eye, with painful eye movements
  • Double vision
  • Ascending sensory disturbance or weakness (a change in sensation or strength that moves up the body)
  • Balance problems or clumsiness
  • Altered sensation travelled down the back when bending the neck forward called Lhermitte’s Syndrome, this can feel like a finger being run down the spine, or a tingling feeling

NICE also suggests that, to be recognised as a symptom of MS, these should last over 24 hours and may have persisted over several weeks or months.

If you are experiencing symptoms, it is important to make an appointment with your GP to discuss them.

Only a neurologist can make the diagnosis of MS. A neurologist will perform other tests to ensure that symptoms are consistent with an inflammatory process in the body and that all other alternative diagnoses have been excluded.

Other useful resources

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