Multiple Sclerosis – Causes, Symptoms, Diagnosis, & Treatment
What is multiple sclerosis?
Multiple sclerosis (MS) is a chronic nervous system disease that affects the brain and spinal cord. This condition occurs due to damage of the protective cover of nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord. When MS occurs, nerve signals slow down or stop disrupting the communication within the brain and between the brain and the body.
Multiple sclerosis affects more women than men. It is mostly diagnosed between ages 20 to 40, but it can occur at any age.
What causes multiple sclerosis?
What causes multiple sclerosis is not clearly known to doctors. What is known is, it is caused by damage to the myelin sheath. Myelin sheath is the protective covering that surrounds nerve cells. When this nerve covering is damaged, nerve signals slow or stop.
Doctors and experts think that it is an autoimmune disease. In autoimmune disease, the body’s immune system attacks its own tissues by mistake. It is also thought that a virus or gene defect, or both causes MS. Environmental factors are also thought to play a role.
The family history of MS increases the risk to develop this condition.
What are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis?
Symptoms vary greatly depending on the location, number and frequency of attacks, and severity of nerve damage in each attack. Symptoms can appear in many parts of the body, as never cell damage can occur in any part of the brain or spinal cord.
Symptoms can last for days, weeks, or months. Symptoms may be followed by remissions or they may continue to get worse without remissions. There can also be periods of decreased or no symptoms. Fever, hot baths, sun exposure, and stress can worsen the symptoms. Diminished brain function, fatigue, numbness, muscle spasms, and vision loss are the common symptoms.
The following are the symptoms of multiple sclerosis:
Brain and nerve symptoms:
- Poor judgment and memory loss
- Reduced attention span
- Difficulty reasoning and solving problems
- Dizziness and balance problems
- Hearing loss
Pain, numbness, or tingling:
- Facial pain
- Muscle pain and spasms
- Tingling and burning feeling in the arms and legs
Swallowing and speech symptoms:
- Chewing and swallowing problems
- Slurred speech
- Discomfort in the eyes
- Double vision
- Involuntary eye movements
- Vision lossin one eye at a time
- Problems with balance
- Muscle spasms
- Numbness in any area
- Trouble moving arms or legs
- Trouble walking
- Problems with coordination and making small movements
- Tremors in one or both arms or legs
- Weakness in one or both arms or legs
Bowel and bladder symptoms:
- Fecal incontinence
- Urinary frequency
- Difficulty beginning urine stream
- Strong urge to urinate
- Urinary incontinence
- Trouble getting erections
- Difficulty with vaginal lubrication
How is multiple sclerosis diagnosed?
It is very difficult to diagnose multiple sclerosis, as many symptoms are similar to those of other medical conditions. Also, symptoms vary greatly from person to person. Symptoms can come and go. Because of the above complexities, no specific test can diagnose MS conclusively.
Initially, doctors usually do all standard central nervous system tests to try to find out the problem. Later, blood tests are done to rule out or confirm other diseases with similar symptoms to diagnose MS. Mostly doctors try to determine if there are signs of more than one attack on the brain or spinal cord to help in diagnosis.
It may take a very long time to conclusively diagnose multiple sclerosis.
A doctor may suspect MS if there is decreased function, such as abnormal reflexes,in two different parts of the central nervous system at two different times. A nervous system exam and may reveal reduced nerve function in one area of the body or over many parts of the body.
The doctor may find the following abnormalities after performing a nervous system exam:
- Abnormal nerve reflexes
- Decreased ability to move a part of the body
- Decreased sensation
- Other loss of nervous system functions, such as vision
An eye exam may reveal:
- Abnormal pupil responses
- Changes in eye movements and the visual fields
- Decreased visual acuity
- Problems with the inner parts of the eye
- Eye movement triggers rapid eye movements
The doctor may do the following tests to diagnose MS:
- Lumbar puncture for cerebrospinal fluid (CSF) tests, including CSF oligoclonal banding
- MRI scan of the brain
- MRI scan of the spine
- Nerve function study
- Blood tests to rule out other conditions that are similar to MS
How is multiple sclerosis treated?
Multiple sclerosis cannot be cured, but treatments are available to slow down the disease. The treatment will be directed at controlling the symptoms and help the affected person to maintain a normal quality of life. It may be necessary to take medicines for long time.
The doctor may prescribe the following medicines:
- Medicines to slow the disease
- Steroids to decrease the severity of attacks
- Medicines to alleviate symptoms like muscle spasms, urinary problems, fatigue, or mood problems
The doctor may recommend the following measures to helppeople with MS:
- Get physical therapy, speech therapy, and occupational therapy
- Use assistive devices, such as wheelchairs, bed lifts, shower chairs, walkers, and wall bars
- An exercise program
- Lead a healthy lifestyle
- Get good nutrition
- Get enough rest and relaxation
- Avoid fatigue, stress, extreme temperatures, and illnesses
- Make necessary changes in food if there are swallowing problems
- Make changes in the home to prevent falls
- Join a support group
- Get help and assistance from social workers or other counseling services to cope with the disorder
- Vitamin D or other supplements (as suggested by the doctor)
This feature is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute the expert guidance of a doctor. We advise seeing a doctor if you have any health concerns.