Diagnosing MS: The EMG Test
EMG stands for electromyogram. The purpose of the EMG is to assess the health of muscles by measuring their response to stimulation. This can help doctors in diagnosing multiple sclerosis and other conditions when a patient has unexplained muscle weakness.
If you’ve ever heard anyone describe an EMG test in detail, you might wonder if it’s a modern day torture device and be tempted to run for the hills. Well, you can relax. While far from a pleasant experience, it’s not something you need to fear.
Depending on what your doctor is looking for, it will take from 30 - 60 minutes to complete the test. Wear clothing that will allow access to the muscles to be tested – loose fitting shorts and a sleeveless shirt work well. If you don’t have the proper clothes, you will be provided with a gown. There is no need for medication before or during the test and, other than some discomfort, you will more than likely walk away with nothing more than soreness, none the worse for wear.
I had an EMG more than five years ago, and I admit that I was very lucky because I had never heard of the test and had no pre-conceived notions. My test was not scheduled in advance and happened rather spontaneously, so I had no time to anticipate what was to come. It was a lot like going for a root canal --much easier if you don’t build up the fear. If you can remain calm and relaxed, the experience will go much easier. Tensing up or sudden movements will not work in your favor.
Electrodes will be placed on your skin in various places and the nerves will be stimulated with mild electrical impulses while the muscle activity is recorded. A needle is inserted into the muscle to detect electrical activity. The doctor may ask you to alternatively contract and relax a particular muscle. The needles feel similar to receiving an injection, although nothing is injected.
Healthy muscles show no electrical activity during rest, while abnormal electrical patterns indicate disease of the muscles or nerves. The EMG test is NOT a definitive test for MS. It is merely one test of many that aid physicians in the sometimes arduous process of diagnosing MS.
My EMG provided no evidence that I had MS. But it did eliminate a few other possibilities, allowing doctors to move on to other diagnostic tools.
If you’re concerned about an EMG, just keep this in mind. It may bring you one step closer to the answers you seek.
Mandy wrote for HealthCentral as patient expert for Multiple Sclerosis.