Diagnosing multiple sclerosis is almost always a challenge. This progressive neurological disease, that affects predominantly young people, can mimic a variety of other diseases since the symptoms are so varied and non-specific. Many people wonder if there is a simple way to diagnose multiple sclerosis – such as through the blood. Is there a blood test for multiple sclerosis?
A Blood Test for Multiple Sclerosis: Why Diagnosing Multiple Sclerosis is a Challenge
Unfortunately, there currently isn’t a blood test for multiple sclerosis. The diagnosis is usually made on the basis of serial clinical exams, head and spinal MRI, and, sometimes, a spinal tip to look for certain proteins in the cerebrospinal fluid.
To make the diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, a doctor needs to confirm that a patient has demyelination in more than one location in the nervous system and has had two or more “attacks” – where new symptoms develop that are separated in time.
This is why it takes several MRI’s or spinal tips to make a diagnosis – to look for progression of the disease. You can’t make the diagnosis with a single head MRI, and, in five percent of cases, the head MRI can be completely normal when a person has MS.
Multiple Sclerosis Blood Tests
Even though diagnosing multiple sclerosis doesn’t involve blood tests, blood tests are used to exclude other conditions that can mimic MS. Some of these conditions include B12 vitamin deficiency, Lyme’s disease, sarcoidosis, heavy metal toxicity, and Sjogren’s syndrome – among others. Blood tests can be used to either diagnose or rule out these conditions. So, blood tests are useful for diagnosing multiple sclerosis, but only by excluding diseases that have symptoms similar to MS.
A Blood Test for Multiple Sclerosis May Soon Be Available
The good news is diagnosing multiple sclerosis could soon be easier. A group of researchers are working on a blood test for multiple sclerosis. This blood test identifies three different markers in the blood that appear early in the disease. This multiple sclerosis blood test would allow doctors to diagnose the disease sooner – so that treatment could be started in a timely manner. Hopefully, this blood test will be available at some point in the future.
Multiple Sclerosis Blood Tests: The Bottom Line?
A blood test for multiple sclerosis isn’t currently available – but may be in the future. For now, clinical exam, head and spine MRI, and spinal taps used in combination are the way MS is diagnosed.
Web MD. “Blood Test May Spot Early Multiple Sclerosis”
Merck Manual. Eighteenth edition. 2006.