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An evoked potential test measures the time it takes for nerves to
respond to stimulation. The size of the response is also measured. Nerves from
different areas of the body may be tested. Types of responses are:
Each type of response is recorded from brain waves by using
electrodes taped to the head. The visual evoked response (VER) is the most
commonly used evoked potential test in the diagnosis of
multiple sclerosis (MS).
Conducting gel and electrodes are applied to the scalp. The
location will depend on the type of response being recorded. For example, when
VERs are recorded, the electrodes are applied to the rear (occipital region) of
the scalp over the brain areas that register visual stimuli.
Stimuli are delivered:
Responses from the electrodes are recorded. The time between the
stimulation and the response is called the latency, which indicates the speed
at which the nerves pass a signal.
This test may be used when MS is suspected and a neurological
examination alone does not provide enough evidence.
For a clear diagnosis of MS, the doctor has to find evidence that
multiple parts of the central nervous system are affected. When there are
symptoms clearly caused by MS lesions of the spine but no visual symptoms, the
visual response may be tested anyway. Abnormal results in such cases mean that
there are also areas of damage (MS lesions) on the brain.
Findings of this test may include the following.
The time between the stimulation and the nerve's response is
within the normal range.
Some people who are free from symptoms in the nerve area tested
will still have abnormal responses in that area.
Abnormal response times can also be associated with other
neurological diseases or with damaged optic nerves and eyes.
An evoked potential test typically takes half an hour or longer to
Complete the medical test information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this test.
Current as of:
March 12, 2014
Adam Husney, MD - Family Medicine & Anne C. Poinier, MD - Internal Medicine & Barrie J. Hurwitz, MD - Neurology
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