Differential diagnosis

Differential diagnosis is the process of finding the cause of symptoms by ruling out other possible causes. The diagnosis of multiple sclerosis is made by differential diagnosis.

There is no one test that on its own will on its own show a neurologist that someone has MS. Also, none of the symptoms of MS are unique to the condition.  In order to reach a diagnosis, a neurologist must rule out a range of other possible explanations.

For example, some people will have a blood test as part of their diagnosis. There is currently no blood test that will identify MS, but some other conditions that have similar symptoms to MS can be detected in the blood, such as a vitamin or mineral deficiency.

If it is difficult to rule out other conditions, the process of differential diagnosis can take some time. This can be frustrating for you and your family, particularly if the reasons for the different tests and the meaning of the results are not properly explained to you.

You might consider taking a friend or family member with you to appointments, and making a list of questions you would to have answered. We have more information on making the most of appointments in our pages for people who are newly diagnosed.

Katz Sand I.
Classification, diagnosis, and differential diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
Current Opinion in Neurology 2015;28(3):193-205.
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