Multiple sclerosis (MS) is one of the most common diseases of the central nervous system (brain and spinal cord). Today more than 2.8 million people around the world have MS. As part of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, we would like to help support awareness by talking about the causes, symptoms and treatments of MS. Continue reading further to learn more.
WHAT IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS?
Multiple Sclerosis (MS), is a disease of the central nervous system that can cause symptoms throughout the body ranging from difficulty walking to bladder dysfunction to changes in memory and thinking abilities. MS is believed to be an autoimmune condition, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the myelin sheath that normally protects nerve fibers in the brain, spinal cord, and optic nerve. As the myelin sheath is gradually destroyed, the resulting scar tissue (sclerosis) disrupts the electrical impulses between the brain and other parts of the body. While there are treatments that can slow the progression of MS, there is no cure.
WHAT CAUSES MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS?
The cause of multiple sclerosis is unknown. It’s considered an immune mediated disease in which the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues. In the case of MS, this immune system malfunction destroys the fatty substance that coats and protects nerve fibers in the brain and spinal cord (myelin). Myelin can be compared to the insulation coating on electrical wires. When the protective myelin is damaged and the nerve fiber is exposed, the messages that travel along that nerve fiber may be slowed or blocked.
TYPES OF MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS
Multiple Sclerosis affects each person differently. The most common types of MS are:
- Relapsing-Remitting MS (RRMS): When someone experiences a relapse, he or she may be having new symptoms or an increase in existing symptoms. These usually persist for a short period of time (from a few days to a few months) and afterward may remain symptom-free for periods of months or years.
- Secondary-Progressive MS (SPMS): This form of MS does not have the dramatic variations in symptoms that RRMS does, but rather has a slow, steady progression. Initially, people with secondary-progressive MS may still experience relapses, although these usually do not fully remit.
- Primary-Progressive MS (PPMS): Individuals experience a steady worsening of symptoms from the start, and do not have periodic relapses and remissions.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS OF MS?
The symptoms of MS are often unpredictable. They may be mild or severe, short-term or long-lasting. They may appear in different combinations, depending on the area of the nervous system affected. The following are the most common symptoms of MS. But each person may have different symptoms. The following are often the first symptoms of MS:
- Blurred or double vision
- Red-green color distortion
- Pain and loss of vision because of swelling of the optic nerve (optic neuritis)
- Trouble walking
- An abnormal feeling or pain, such as numbness, prickling, or pins and needles (paresthesia)
Other symptoms of multiple sclerosis may include:
- Muscle weakness in the arms and legs
- Trouble with coordination. You may have problems walking or standing. You may also be partially or completely paralyzed.
- Spasticity, the involuntary increased tone of muscles leading to stiffness and spasms.
- Fatigue, this may be brought on by physical activity, but it may ease with rest. You may have constant tiredness that doesn’t go away.
- Loss of sensation
- Speech problems
- Hearing loss
- Bowel and bladder problems
- Changes in sexual function
HOW IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS DIAGNOSED?
No specific test is available to diagnose multiple sclerosis. But a healthcare provider can make a diagnosis by following a careful process to rule out other causes and diseases. Two things must be true to make a diagnosis of MS:
- You must have had 2 attacks at least 1 month apart. An attack is when any MS symptoms show up suddenly. Or when any MS symptoms get worse for at least 24 hours.
- You must have more than 1 area of damage to the central nervous system myelin. Myelin is the sheath that surrounds and protects nerve fibers. This damage must have occurred at more than 1 point in time and not have been caused by any other disease.
Generally a single attack along with certain patterns of changes in brain tissue seen on an MRI scan of the brain performed with contrast can mean that you have MS.
ADDITIONAL MS EVALUATION
An MS evaluation involves a complete health history and neurological exam. This includes:
- Mental functions
- Emotional functions
- Language functions
- Movement and coordination
- Functions of the 5 senses
The following may be used when evaluating a person for multiple sclerosis:
- MRI: A diagnostic test that uses a combination of large magnets, sound waves, and a computer to make detailed pictures of organs and structures within the body. It can find plaques or scarring caused by MS.
- Evoked potentials: These tests record the brain’s electrical response to visual, auditory, and sensory stimuli. These tests show if you have a slowing of messages in the different parts of the brain.
- Cerebral spinal fluid analysis: This is also called a spinal tap or lumbar puncture. It looks at the fluid taken from the spinal column to make an evaluation or diagnosis. This test checks for cellular and chemical abnormalities seen with MS.
- Blood tests: These are done to rule out other causes for various neurological symptoms.
HOW IS MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS TREATED?
There is no cure yet for multiple sclerosis. However, you can do things to help change the course of the disease, treat flare-ups, manage symptoms, and improve your function and mobility. Treatments for the conditions seen with MS may include:
- Medicines (talk with your provider to see what medicines may be an option for you)
- Equipment such as canes, braces, or walkers
- Rehabilitation activities
Rehabilitation varies depending on your symptoms and how severe they are. MS rehabilitation may help you to:
- Get back functions that are important for daily living
- Be as independent as you can
- Involve your family
- Make the right decisions relating to your care
- Learn about equipment like canes, braces, or walkers that can make is easier to move around
- Set up an exercise program that builds muscle strength, endurance, and control
- Get back motor skills
- Speak more easily if you have weakness or a lack of coordination of face and tongue muscles
- Manage bowel or bladder incontinence
- Relearn thinking skills
- Change the way your home is set up to keep you safe but allow you to move about as easily as possible
MULTIPLE SCLEROSIS AWARENESS MONTH – WHATEVER IT TAKES!
Nationally and globally, there is growing awareness about multiple sclerosis, people living with the disease and the MS movement. There is always more that can be done to spread the word, to share knowledge about research and progress in treatments, and to support those affected by MS. We can all play an important role in continuing this work.
- MS Awareness Week: As part of Multiple Sclerosis Awareness Month, MS Awareness Week is held annually in the United States. This year, it’s scheduled for March 12–19, 2023, according to the National Multiple Sclerosis Society (NMSS). The theme for MS Awareness Week is “My MS Moment,” where stories of life with MS will be told through the everyday moments people with MS experience.
- World MS Day: World MS Day is typically observed on May 30 each year. Established by the Multiple Sclerosis International Federation (MSIF) in 2009, World MS Day seeks to unite the global MS community of more than 2.3 million people “to share stories, raise awareness, and campaign with and for everyone affected” by the condition. The World MS Day theme is “Connections.” According to the World MS Day website, “MS Connections is all about building community connection, self-connection, and connections to quality care. We are challenging social barriers that leave people affected by MS feeling lonely and socially isolated.”
Nationally and globally, there is growing awareness about multiple sclerosis, people living with the disease and the MS movement. There is always more that can be done to spread the word, to share knowledge about research and progress in treatments, and to support those affected by MS. Do you or a loved one have multiple sclerosis? What is your experience like? Please feel free to share your story down below!