Multiple sclerosis or MS is a debilitating disease involving the immune system fighting the protective sheath that covers nerves in the body, known as myelin. Damage to the myelin causes interference in how the brain and spinal cord communicate with other parts of the body. As a result, irreversible nerve deterioration can occur, which can be severely debilitating. Symptoms of multiple sclerosis can vary widely especially considering that the amount of damage that occurs will greatly impact the severity of the symptoms. There is no cure for multiple sclerosis, though there are treatment options for symptom management and to reduce disease progression.
The cause behind multiple sclerosis is not yet apparent. However, the disease is believed to be autoimmune in nature meaning that the immune system is wrongly attacking tissues it is not meant to. This autoimmune response in multiple sclerosis damages and destroys a fatty substance known as myelin, which protects nerve fibers in the spinal cord and brain. This fatty substance coats the nerve fibers as insulation, and so its destruction can lead to slowing or blocking of the messages traveling along the underlying nerves. Physicians believe that many factors contribute to the development of multiple sclerosis including childhood infections and genetics.
There are several complications that can occur as a result of multiple sclerosis. People who have multiple sclerosis may develop secondary health issues including muscle spasms, muscle stiffness, paralysis in the legs or elsewhere in the body, bladder and bowel problems, sexual function issues, forgetfulness, difficulties concentrating, epilepsy and depression along with other mental changes. Because these complications can be so severe and even life-threatening, seeking assistance from a medical professional is essential when multiple sclerosis symptoms appear.
Symptoms can vary from person to person depending on where the affected nerve fibers are. Some symptoms of multiple sclerosis include: weakness or numbness in the limbs, loss of central vision in one or both eyes, pain during eye movement, blurring of vision, double vision, pain or tingling, lack of coordination, tremor, unsteady gait, fatigue, dizziness, slurred speech and electric shock sensations along the neck and spine. Most people with multiple sclerosis experience heat sensitivity, where other symptoms worsen with even small changes in the body temperature.
A physician will want to review symptoms, check medical history and perform a new patient evaluation in order to diagnose or rule out multiple sclerosis. The physical examination may include blood tests and analysis to rule out inflammatory diseases, spinal tap or lumbar puncture, magnetic resonance imaging or MRI and evoked potential test to measure electrical signals. This test measures the signals the brain sends out in response to visual or electrical stimuli. Analyzing these signals will help to determine if there is damage present to the brain stem, optic nerves and spinal cord.
There is no cure for MS, so treatment options focus on treating symptom attacks, managing symptoms and reducing progression of the disease. To treat symptom attacks, doctors prescribe corticosteroids and plasma exchange or plasmapheresis. To slow progression of the disease, physicians will prescribe beta interferons, Glatiramer acetate or Copaxone, Fingolimod or Gilenya, Natalizumab or Tysabri, Mitoxantrone and Teriflunomide or Aubagio. To treat systems, physicians will recommend Dalfampridine or Amyra, muscle relaxants, physical therapy, medications for fatigue reduction and other medications for bowel and bladder control issues, pain and depression.