Multiple Sclerosis is an unpredictable, progressive, immune mediated disease that affects the central nervous system, disrupting the flow of information between the brain and the body. The nerve cells are damaged, and this leads to reduced function in the brain and spinal cord.The nervous system cells are covered in a protective substance called myelin. MS as an immune mediated or auto immune disease means that the immune system that is meant to protect the body gets confused and attack the nerve cells, damaging the my el in which is meant to protect it. This is called demyelination. When demyelination occurs, it disrupts messages from being transmitted to and from the brain. Some of these messages gets misinterpreted, or do not go through at all. Apart from damaging the myelin, the actual nerve fibers can sometimes be damaged also; this is what causes the increase in disability that occurs over time.
Multiple Sclerosis is a lifetime condition and can sometimes cause serious disabilities. In the UK, it is estimated that over 100,000 people are diagnosed and living with MS. Although, commonly diagnosed in people in their 20s and 30s, MS can develop at any age with a higher number of women suffering this disease than men.
There is no known cure for multiple sclerosis at the moment but with special treatments, the conditions and symptoms can be well managed. There are three main organizations in the UK: MS Society, MS UK and MS Trust where you can get useful advice and information about on going research into MS.
What causes Multiple Sclerosis?
Exactly what causes the immune system to go haywire and attack the nervous system is unclear. But most experts figure a combination of genetic factors, environmental conditions and individual lifestyle is to blame. There is also evidence that low levels of vitamin D in the body may be a factor in why people get multiple sclerosis.
Types of Multiple Sclerosis
- Relapsing Remitting (RRMS): For most people, this is how their multiple sclerosis begins. It begins with relapsing remitting which is when people have distinct symptoms which will then fade away partially or totally. A relapse is when new symptoms appear or when the old ones return. A person suffering from MS can be said to have RRMS if, he or she has developed new symptoms or has a worsening of old symptoms. Disease modifying therapies (DMT) can reduce the number of relapses a person suffers.
- Primary Progressive (PPMS): This type of multiple sclerosis affects about 15% of those diagnosed with MS. The symptoms in this case, gradually worsen over time, rather than appearing as sudden attack. With PPMS, early symptoms can often begin with walkingslight problems and then slowly develop from there.
- Secondary Progressive MS (SPMS): With this type of multiple sclerosis, the person’s symptoms steadily gets worse, the usual pattern of getter better followed by relapses comes to an end. About 60% of people diagnosed with RRMS will ultimately develop SPMS in about fifteen years after the initial diagnosis. SPMS happens in 2 ways, some people can experience a gradual worsening of their situation, while others get more disabled more quickly.
- Benign MS: Benign multiple sclerosis has little or no symptom or disabilities. Although, being diagnosed with benign multiple sclerosis doesn’t guarantee a person will be free from problems, these problems will not be actually disabling. Just things like tiredness and problem with memory or thinking.A person can only be diagnosed as having benign ms if the person has suffered no visible disability after 15 years. Although a a person diagnosed as having benign MS can still experience relapses and symptoms later on in life, thischanges their multiple sclerosis status.
Common symptoms of Multiple Sclerosis
Multiple Sclerosis is a complex disorder and so has many symptoms. These symptoms tend to appear in people when they are between the ages of 20 and 40. The symptoms vary from person to person and can affect different parts of the body. Some of these symptoms may come and go, or get steadily worse as time goes on.
Some of the common symptoms are:
- Fatigue: this occurs in about 80% of people and can interfere with the ability to function at home or work.
- Tingling or numbness; One of the first signs of people diagnosed with MS, is numbness of the face, body or arms and legs.
- Vision problem: Another early sign of MS is the onset of blurred or double vision.
- Unusual sensations on the body: About half of the people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis have uncomfortable symptoms such as feeling of pins and needles in the body, uncontrollable itching, burning or tearing pains.
- Bladder and bowel problems: A good number of people diagnosed with MS, find out that they have to empty their bowels and bladder often. They also suffer from constipation.
- Weakness: This is as a result of unused muscles or damage to the nerves that stimulate and control muscles. This symptom can be managed with therapy and rehabilitation strategies.
- Tremors: more than half of people diagnosed with multiple sclerosis suffer from tremors. It could be minor shakes or severe tremors that make it hard for them to carry out daily activities.
- Difficulties in walking, Spasticity and muscle spasm, Dizziness.
- Sexual problems: this can include erectile dysfunction in men and dryness of vagina in women.
- Emotional and mood changes, Depression, Speech problem or slurring (dysarthia)
- Loss of hearing
- Cognitive changes, etc.
Diagnosis and Treatment
There is no one single test, symptom or physical findings to determine if an individual has multiple sclerosis. Doctors use a combination of physical examination, neurologic examination, medical history and various tests like magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), evoked potentials (EP) and cerebrospinal fluid analysis also called a spinal tap or lumbar punctureto determine if a person has multiple sclerosis.
Unfortunately, there is no cure for multiple sclerosis, but a number of treatments can help control the symptoms of MS. Some of these treatments are:
- Disease modifying treatments (DMT): This therapies help to slow or reduce the worsening of disabilities in MS. It can reduce how many relapses a person gets and controls how bad they are.
- Having a healthy lifestyle can also help in managing multiple sclerosis. Maintaining a good diet, constant exercise and physiotherapy will help manage symptoms and disabilities of multiple sclerosis.
Commonly Asked Questions
Is Multiple Sclerosis fatal?
Although there is no known cure for multiple sclerosis at present, the good news is that MS is not a fatal disease. People with multiple sclerosis normally have the same life expectancy as those without it.
How long can a person live with Multiple Sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis is associated with a number of life threatening complications, but JF managed well, people with MS have a life expectancy that is aboutsix years less that people without it.
Is Multiple Sclerosis contagious?
No. Multiple sclerosis is not a contagious condition, although there are studies that show that certain environmental factors and genetic factors may make certain people more susceptible to it than others.
At what age does Multiple Sclerosis start?
Multiple sclerosis using first appear in people diagnosed with MS between the ages of 20 and 50.
Can a woman with Multiple Sclerosis get pregnant?
Studies have shown that women with multiple sclerosis can get pregnant; they can even get some relief when pregnant. It is wise though, to discuss with your doctor when making plans to have a baby, so that you can know the medications to take and those not to take.
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