Acute Disseminated Encephalomyelitis

An accurate and early diagnosis of acute disseminated encephalomyelitis, or ADEM, is critical in the management of your child's disease and quality of life.

In making a diagnosis, your child's doctor will first conduct a thorough physical examination, asking about symptoms your child is experiencing, including when they started and how they've eased or progressed over time. Your child's doctor also will record a full medical history, including information about your immediate and extended family.

Next, a series of tests will be conducted, including magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain and spinal cord to look for lesions, or areas of damage that may indicate ADEM and rule out other disorders such as multiple sclerosis. An MRI scan is a non-invasive procedure that uses powerful magnets to construct clear, detailed pictures of the brain and spinal cord tissues.

Recent brain lesions are more typical in ADEM, but can also occur in multiple sclerosis.

Old "inactive" lesions usually indicate multiple sclerosis, which often causes brain lesions before symptoms become obvious.

Your child also may have a lumbar puncture or spinal tap to determine if there are abnormalities in the cerebrospinal fluid or CSF.

CSF is the fluid that bathes, cushions and protects the brain and spinal cord. It flows through the skull and spine in the subarachnoid space, which is the area inside the arachnoid membrane. Typically, in ADEM, a child's CSF contains elevated levels of white blood cells and protein.

A diagnosis of ADEM is based on an evaluation of your child's symptoms along with the physical exam and test results.

Reviewed by health care specialists at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital.

Related Information

UCSF Clinics & Centers

Pediatric Brain Center

Multiple Sclerosis Center
1825 Fourth St., Fifth Floor, 5A
San Francisco, CA 94158
Phone: (415) 353-3939
Fax: (415) 353-3543
Appointment information