When the diagnosis of ALD is suspected, a test called magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is usually required. In this test, pictures of the brain are taken and the amount of white matter (myelin) in the brain is measured. In people with symptoms of ALD, there are usually characteristic changes in the white matter. An MRI can be helpful in making the diagnosis of ALD, but if changes are seen on MRI, it does not confirm the diagnosis of ALD. Changes in the white matter may only be seen after 1–2 years of age when the brain has matured.
A definitive diagnosis of ALD can be made by measuring the level of the VLCFA in the blood. In 99.9% of males with all types of ALD, the level of the VLCFA in blood is very high. This is diagnostic of ALD.
When ALD is suspected, testing should also be performed to measure the adrenal function. In 90% of boys with symptoms of ALD and 70% of men with AMN, the adrenal glands are affected.
Approximately 85% of female carriers will have higher than normal levels of VLCFA in their blood. However, 15–20% of female carriers will have normal levels of VLCFA in their blood, which gives a "false negative" result. If a woman wants to be certain about her carrier status,genetic testing to look for a specific mutation in the ALD gene can be performed. This testing usually involves drawing a small amount of blood. Before a woman could have testing to determine her carrier status, a mutation in the ALD gene must have already been found in an affected member of the family. If a mutation in the ALD gene has already been found in another family member, testing on another child suspected on having ALD would be done to look at the mutation known to cause ALD in the family.
Karen M. Krajewski MS, CGC, The Gale Group Inc., Gale, Detroit,