Testing & diagnosis for Multiple Sclerosis (MS) in children

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Contact the Pediatric Multiple Sclerosis Related Disorder Program


At Boston Children’s Hospital, we know that an early and accurate diagnosis of your child’s multiple sclerosis (MS) is the first step to effective treatment.

Diagnosing MS often presents a special challenge for physicians, since the earliest symptoms are nonspecific and can be found in a variety of illnesses. In addition, MS can show up in different ways in different people, and the symptoms often come and go.

For reasons like these, getting to a diagnosis can be a long and stressful journey for many families. But it’s important to remember that the difficulties are an unfortunate part of the process, not a sign that there’s something uniquely wrong with your child. At Children’s, we have expertise in evaluating symptoms in children and providing treatment that is specifically tailored to their individual condition.

How is a diagnosis of MS made?

MS is diagnosed according to a set of clinical standards known as the MacDonald Criteria. The MacDonald Criteria makes use of the following diagnostic tests:

  • Neurological Exam
  • Family History
  • Blood tests to look for signs of inflammation, which occurs as a result of demyelination.
  • Spinal tap (lumbar puncture), a procedure in which your child’s doctor uses a needle to access her spinal canal and the cerebrospinal fluid that’s found floating in it. Most children have lumbar punctures with local anesthesia, meaning that they’re alert, but the area of the puncture is extremely numb.
  • Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI),which uses a combination of large magnets, radiofrequencies and a computer to produce detailed pictures of the body’s organs, bones and tissues. Doctors use MRIs to check for any signs of scarring on the brain and spinal cord.
  • Visual Evoked potential tests (EP), which measure how long it takes your brain to respond to visual stimuli.
We are grateful to have been ranked #1 on U.S. News & World Report's list of the best children's hospitals in the nation for the third year in a row, an honor we could not have achieved without the patients and families who inspire us to do our very best for them. Thanks to you, Boston Children's is a place where we can write the greatest children's stories ever told.”
- Sandra L. Fenwick, President and CEO

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