July 02, 2020
The nerve cells in your body are surrounded by material called the myelin sheath, a covering that protects them from damage. Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a nervous system disease that damages the sheath, interrupting and slowing the messages between the brain and the body. It affects more than 2.1 million people around the world. While it is occasionally classified as an autoimmune disease, researchers are not sure of its true cause.
Multiple sclerosis usually begins in patients between the ages of 20 and 40, more often in women than men. Muscle weakness, trouble with coordination, memory problems, visual issues, and trouble with sensation (such as numbness or prickling) are all hallmarks of the disrupted nerve function that results from multiple sclerosis.
The severity of symptoms varies by each patient based on different nerves and the level of damage to the myelin sheath. Some people may have relatively few symptoms—and experience remission—while others lose the ability to walk over time. The nature of symptoms, and the course of treatment, depends upon which of the four forms of MS a person has.
Relapse-remitting MS (RRMS) is the most common form of multiple sclerosis. Patients experience relapses of MS symptoms, interrupted by periods of remission. During relapses, new symptoms can appear or old symptoms can become worse.
RRMS can develop into two other kinds of multiple sclerosis. Primary progressive MS is experienced by 15 to 20 percent of MS patients. In this form of the disease, symptoms get worse over time, with few (if any) remissions. Secondary progressive MS is experienced by 50 percent of RRMS sufferers. In this form, the cycle of relapse and remission continues, but over time it results in new brain lesions and increased disability.
Unlike the other forms of MS, which are chronic, Clinically Isolated Syndrome causes patients to experience a one-day period of MS symptoms. An MRI will determine if there are any lesions on the brain, which would indicate the person is susceptible to future episodes of MS.
Diagnosing MS is difficult. Genetic and environmental factors may contribute to its development, as might some viruses. Because the symptoms are common to other neurological diseases, doctors will take care to rule out other causes before diagnosing MS through a blood test, neurological test, spinal tap, or MRI.
There is no cure for multiple sclerosis. Treatment courses are designed to help relieve symptoms and slow the disease’s progress.
Beyond relieving specific symptoms, such as erectile dysfunction, pain, or muscle spasms, medicines can affect the trajectory of MS. Some patients receive interferons —natural proteins given via injection—to slow down symptoms. Glatiramer acetates can also reduce relapses and new lesions, and are also injected.
Physical therapy can also help with mobility, strength, and pain while accommodating symptoms. Occupational therapy is meant to help those with MS remain independent at home and work, and adapt to living with MS symptoms. Speech therapy helps control swallowing and communication.
Due the difficulty of living with multiple sclerosis, those who suffer from it are encouraged to find ways to prevent relapses as much as possible. Rest, keeping cool (MS symptoms worsen in the heat), reducing stress, muscle relaxants, and medications that reduce fatigue can all help ease symptoms.
Although it has no cure, MS can be managed, ensuring those who suffer from it can lead long, fruitful lives.
Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.