Multiple Sclerosis is a disabling disease that affects the central nervous system.
It spans a lifetime but can also be mild and not always causes disability.
Multiple Sclerosis affects the brain and spinal cord, therefore possible symptoms include vision problems, balance and movement problems.
Why Should You Be Concerned?
Multiple Sclerosis affects more than twice as many women as men.
Moreover, it is usually found in people in their 20’s and 30’s even if you can get it at any age.
Therefore, it is one of the leading causes of disability among youth and it also reduces life expectancy.
Hence, recognize your symptoms of MS early.
This is a comprehensive guide on MS.
We discuss the causes, symptoms and treatment of Multiple Sclerosis so that you identify your symptoms timely.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Myelin (a protective sheath) covers your nerve fibers.
In MS, your immune system attacks myelin and this leads to communication issues between the brain and the body.
Therefore, it is considered an autoimmune disease.
However, an environmental factor such as a toxin can trigger this attack in your body.
This attack causes inflammation forming inflamed patches. It further develops into scar tissue on myelin (sclerosis).
These scar tissues on myelin disturb the communication pathway of the nerve fibers.
The messages between the brain and the body may be delayed as they slow down or are even blocked or jumbled up.
MS is a chronic condition that lasts a lifetime.
It is not hereditary but having a family member with the disease can increase your risk.
This disease can eventually lead to permanent nerve damage such as damage to optic nerves leading to blurred version.
Nearly 1 million people in the United States suffer from MS.
The types and stages of Multiple Sclerosis (MS) are as follows:
- Clinically isolated syndrome (CIS)
CIS is considered a pre MS stage.
When myelin suffers damage, you face one episode of symptoms that lasts a day.
Though CIS points towards MS, it is not enough to diagnose it.
- Relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis (RRMS)
Almost 85 percent of MS cases are Relapsing-remitting MS.
As the name suggests, it is the remission of the disease preceded by relapses.
The symptoms are mild and there is no further disease progression during remission.
Most people will have Relapsing-remitting Multiple Sclerosis at MS onset.
Your doctor will check for more than one lesion in your spinal fluid and diagnose RRMS.
- Primary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (PPMS)
PPMS worsens the neurological function progressively from the beginning.
Though there can be periods of stability and new brain lesions can be active or not active sometimes.
The intensity of the symptoms does not decrease but keeps increasing without remission.
- Secondary Progressive Multiple Sclerosis (SPMS)
SPMS occurs when the disease progresses from RRMS TO PPMS.
You may experience relapses and remissions however the liability continues.
In fact, SPMS may lead to even more severe symptoms and a few people will experience remissions.
You may have only one type of MS at a time.
However, it may evolve and progress to other types.
Though, it is harder to find out when you transition from one type to another.
Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
The symptoms may differ from person to person and according to the type of MS.
You may witness flare-ups during relapses and the symptoms may also settle down or reach a plateau.
The symptoms depend on the affected nerve and can differ due to their different location.
Hence a case of MS may have different symptoms. So symptoms of people with MS vary widely.
Symptoms usually affect your movement.
Your body may feel numb or weak.
This numbness usually happens in the limbs of one side of your body, the trunk, or your legs.
Your body may tremor which results in an unsteady walk and lack of balance and coordination.
You may also get muscle weakness and with an affected vision, your gait will become unsteady.
Moreover, you may experience the Lhermitte sign which is a sensation and feeling of an electric shock.
You may especially feel it when moving the neck.
Other symptoms affect your vision and general health.
- Partial vision loss, in one eye at a time. It can also become complete loss of eyesight.
- Vision is blurry and double
- Disturbed bowel and bladder function
- Regular fatigue
- Speech becomes slurred
- Pain in the body as well as the sensation of tingling
Risks and Complications
The exact cause of MS is unknown.
However, certain factors can increase your risk of getting it.
These risk factors include:
Women are twice as likely to develop MS than men.
The reason is unidentifiable but this makes women more vulnerable to MS than men.
MS is not inherited.
However, your chances of developing the disease can increase by 2 to 3 percent if your parents or siblings are affected.
You can get MS if you get less sunlight and have low Vitamin D levels.
This may also be a reason why MS is more common in countries that are further away from the equator like New Zealand and Canada.
They get less sunlight and have a temperate climate. However, more research needs to be done to be clear if taking Vitamin D supplements can prevent MS or not.
MS can affect people of all ages.
However, most people get diagnosed from 20 to 40 years of age.
If you suffered from obesity in your teenage, you have a higher chance of getting MS.
Viral infections can trigger the immune system to attack its own tissues.
One such virus that causes glandular fever can lead to MS.
You have more chances of getting MS if you suffer from other autoimmune diseases or other conditions.
These include thyroid, inflammatory bowel disease, diabetes and psoriasis.
Smokers are twice as likely to develop MS than nonsmokers.
Smokers are more likely to get an event of initial symptoms than nonsmokers are to get a second event of a relapse.
People with MS may not feel fit mentally.
This disease can lead to paralysis, epilepsy and still muscles and spasms.
It also affects your bladder and sexual functionality.
Moreover, you may also undergo periods of forgetfulness and experience mood swings.
Henceforth you may feel depressed and anxious.
It is easy to spiral into depression with this disease that can lead to disability.
If you are dealing with mental health problems after your MS diagnosis, seek professional help.
Diagnosis of MS
The diagnosis for MS involves ruling out other conditions that have the same signs.
Discuss your symptoms with your doctor and they will proceed with the following tests.
It is unlikely to diagnose MS from one episode. You may get a proper diagnosis only after two attacks.
A blood test helps to eliminate the doubt of other diseases that are related to MS and vitamin deficiencies.
However, it is not used for diagnosing MS.
A Spinal tap checks the cerebrospinal fluid. The CSF is collected from your spinal canal and it can detect a change in the antibodies related to MS.
This tells if your immune system cells and antibodies have been fighting against this disease.
Moreover, lumbar puncture helps ruling out other similar diseases.
An imaging test like a brain MRI can show the presence of lesions and scar tissue in your brain as well as the spinal cord.
Contrast material may be injected to clearly see the lesions showing active MS.
An evoked potential test checks your brainwaves by placing electrodes on your head.
It measures how long it takes for information to travel through your nerve pathways and is it slower than normal.
You will either be given visual stimuli like a moving light pattern to check your vision or electrical impulses on your arms and legs.
Your doctor will examine your response to the stimuli and the time it takes for a response.
It is harder to identify the type of MS during your first onset.
It may take a while to notice if your symptoms go through phases of relapses and settlement or do they progressively worsen.
RRMS can be diagnosed easily. An MRI and your symptoms can help your doctor to come to a conclusion.
However, progressive MS (PPMS) and unusual symptoms are difficult to diagnose.
They may need additional spinal fluid analysis tests and imaging.
Multiple Sclerosis Treatment
MS is not curable.
However, the treatment slows down the disease’s progression, helps you manage the symptoms and provides speedy recovery after an attack.
However, it may be mild too.
You can treat relapses by using corticosteroids such as intravenous methylprednisolone approved by food and drug administration. They help decrease inflammation in the nerves.
However, you may witness side effects like insomnia and high blood glucose level.
Your doctor may recommend plasmapheresis if you have severe symptoms and steroids were ineffective.
Your plasma is removed from the blood cells and instead, these blood cells are mixed with albumin and put back in your body.
Treating Progressive MS
Disease-modifying therapy (DMT) helps to treat PPMS.
Ocrelizumab slows down the progression of the disease and those who are left untreated have a higher chance of progression.
Aggressive treatment at the beginning can lower the speed of formation of scar tissue, decrease the chances of relapse and reduce the chances of complications like disability.
DMT’s may have many side effects and your oral, injectable or infusion treatment is determined considering factors such as childbearing status and other conditions.
MS can lead to paralysis especially of the legs.
Therefore, if you suffer from MS you may require occasional physiotherapy.
You can learn stretching and strengthening exercises. These may help you to carry daily tasks better.
Moreover, you can manage your gait and muscle weakness through physiotherapy.
You can take medicines to increase walking speed and reduce fatigue.
Furthermore, your doctor will prescribe muscle relaxants to deal with muscle spasms and stiff muscles and also for other symptoms like depression and bladder problems.
Lifestyle Changes and Home Remedies
You should incorporate exercise in your routine if you suffer from MS.
Exercise can impact mild to moderate MS.
You can improve your muscle strength and balance through exercise. This will give a more stable gait.
Walking, stretching and yoga are also mild exercises that can help you cope with your symptoms better.
Moreover, MS can get worse for a few people in higher temperatures. Therefore incorporate swimming in your routine to keep yourself cool.
Also, use cooling vests and stay away from heat exposure.
Eat healthy foods and take a balanced diet. Increase Vitamin D intake in your diet.
Furthermore, try to take less stress and reduce it by being around your loved ones and practicing meditation.
Stress can elevate your symptoms and this can worsen your condition.
Hence self-care and your wellbeing should be your priority.
Coping with Multiple Sclerosis
Living with a long-term condition like Multiple Sclerosis can take a toll on your emotional and physical wellbeing.
Noticing your symptoms worsen over time can get frustrating and depressing for you as well as your relatives.
If you suffer from MS, do inform your close relatives about your feelings about your condition and let them know how they can help.
Getting a little support from your loved ones can help you immensely.
Therefore, you should be honest about your struggle and seek professional help for your emotional well being.