Several processes take place during an attack of demyelination in multiple sclerosis (MS). The timing of these various processes, and thus of the attack in its entirety, is important if therapeutic stratagies are to be planned. Attempts have been made to introduce and investigate variables relevant to timing the disease processes, leading to staging systems for MS. Here, the terminology and the various parameters used are reviewed, including inflammatory cells, glial cells, axonal loss and myelin staining; then the different systems are compared, including the system put forward by Bö and Trapp, our own modification of that, the Brück and Lassmann system and the recent consensus reached at a Vienna meeting. It is concluded that an ideal staging system does not yet exist, and that, more than anything else, the material dictates the choice for a staging system. The terminology of the Vienna consensus could be used as a reference to facilitate international comparison.