Understanding Multiple Sclerosis Symptoms
A chronic condition, multiple sclerosis is a disease of the central nervous system. There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but the symptoms can be treated. According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, 2.3 million people around the world have multiple sclerosis.
The NMSS reports that the prevalence of MS in the U.S. is unknown because a national prevalence study has not been completed since 1975. However, it is estimated that there are around 400,000 Americans who have the condition.
Receiving a diagnosis of multiple sclerosis can be overwhelming. There are treatments that may help one manage the disease, so the symptoms may be lessened. A person should make certain to follow the doctor’s recommendations in order to enjoy a better quality of life despite the condition.
What is Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is a condition that affects one’s immune system, directing it to attack the central nervous system. The central nervous system is made up of the spinal cord, optic nerves, and brain. When the immune system attacks the central nervous system, it damages the myelin sheath that covers and protects the nerves. MS can also cause damage to the nerve fibers and the cells in one’s body that produce myelin.
There are four different conditions that have been identified as types of MS. Clinically isolated syndrome is a first episode in which the myelin is attacked. When someone has this happen, the doctor will look to see if there are any lesions in the brain. If there are, a person is likely to develop relapsing-remitting multiple sclerosis, which is the most common form of the disease. If there are not any lesions, the likelihood of developing relapsing-remitting MS is lower.
People who have relapsing-remitting MS experience episodes of attacks on their neurological systems that are clearly defined. These episodes are called relapses. In between the relapses, you may go into periods of remission during which you experience fewer symptoms. The attacks may worsen over time and may become more frequent.
Some people who are initially diagnosed with RRMS will develop secondary progressive MS. In this condition, the neurological damage grows worse as time passes. People who have SPMS may have times when their conditions are active and others when they are inactive. They may also have conditions that worsen or that do not worsen.
The final type of multiple sclerosis is called primary progressive MS. In this condition, the symptoms grow worse from the initial onset of the disease, and there are not any defined relapses and remissions.
Symptoms and Causes
According to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, it is unclear what causes MS. Researchers believe that MS may result from a combination of different factors, including immunological factors, genetics, exposure to infectious agents, and environmental factors. A link between having low levels of vitamin D and a higher risk of multiple sclerosis has been found. More people who live in northern countries develop MS than people who live near the equator. Scientists think that this difference might result because people in colder climates have less sun exposure while those in the warmer climates have more sun exposure. Being exposed to the sun helps your body produce vitamin D naturally.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the symptoms of MS may vary substantially from person to person and will depend on what nerves are damaged. Some of the common symptoms of multiple sclerosis include the following:
- Problems with bladder or bowel functioning
- Slurred speech
- Coordination problems or tremors
- Pain and tingling in different parts of the body
- Double vision
- Partial or total loss of vision
- Weakness in the limbs, which may affect only one side of the body
The Mayo Clinic reports that there is not a specific test for MS. Doctors instead go through a process called a differential diagnosis. This process involves the doctors ruling out other disorders that may cause similar symptoms.
One’s doctor may start by performing blood tests to rule out these other possible conditions. The doctor may then perform a spinal tap to collect some of your spinal fluid. This is done so that the doctor can look for antibodies in the fluid that are commonly associated with MS. One’s doctor may also perform a magnetic resonance imaging of your brain to look for lesions that might be present.
Finally, one may undergo an evoked potential test. This test measures the patient’s reaction to visual or electrical stimuli.
If diagnosed with MS, the treatment will be focused on shortening the length of relapses in order to increase a person’s recovery time. The treatment will also try to slow the progression of the disease and help manage the symptoms. During an MS attack, one’s doctor may prescribe corticosteroids such as methylprednisone that is administered intravenously or prednisone in pill form. These medications are used to reduce the inflammation of the nerves. If one has severe symptoms that have not responded to steroids, the doctor might perform plasmapheresis. This treatment separates the plasma from the blood. Albumin is then added to the plasma, and it is reinjected into the bloodstream.
There are several treatments that may be used to slow the progression of the disease, including the following:
- Injections of glatiramer acetate under the skin to block attacks on myelin
- Oral medication called dimethyl fumarate to reduce the frequency of the relapses
- Lemtrada to target a protein on the surface of immune cells to block the immune response
- Beta interferon injections to reduce the severity and frequency of relapses
In addition to medications, one’s doctor may recommend that you undergo physical therapy. A person may also be given a prescription for muscle relaxers.